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Soros in consortium bid for Myanmar telecom license

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A private investment fund linked to billionaire George Soros is bidding with a consortium for a new telecommunications license in Myanmar, the consortium leader said Thursday.

Quantum Strategic Partners, whose principal investment adviser is Soros Fund Management, is bidding with consortium leader and telecom provider Digicel Group Limited and YSH Finance, a newly established holding company, Digicel said in a statement.

"The liberalization of the telecommunications market in Myanmar will serve as an important economic stimulus for the country," Soros said in the statement.

A Soros spokesman declined to comment further.

The Hungarian-American billionaire has long supported civil society groups seeking political reform in Myanmar.

The consortium said it had submitted its pre-qualification application to bid for one of the two new telecom licenses being offered by the government of Myanmar, the impoverished former pariah state.

Myanmar has an estimated population of more than 55 million. The current mobile phone penetration is less than 10 percent, according to the Digicel statement.

"It's quite a big opportunity," Digicel spokeswoman Antonia Graham told AFP.

"We are looking at an initial project investment of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion."

The Myanmar government is expected to announce on April 11 which firms pre-qualified. A final decision on the winning bidders is expected June 27, Graham said.

Graham declined to provide a breakdown of how much each consortium member would invest.

Soros's foundation, the Open Society Foundations, has worked in Myanmar, known in the United States as Burma, since 1994.

In 2011 a quasi-civilian regime came into power after decades of iron-fisted military rule. Since then the authorities have introduced a series of political reforms that have led the West to scrap or freeze most sanctions.

A February 2013 report on the Open Society Foundations's website characterized Myanmar's civil reforms as a work in progress.

"Protesters still feel the threat of arrest and violent crackdowns, and though nominal democracy has replaced military autocracy, its processes are far from democratic," said the report.

"While there is cause for optimism in Burma for the first time in decades, there are still enormous challenges to overcome."

Since the end of military rule in 2011, Myanmar has lured international firms to start operations in the potentially lucrative market.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130404/soros-consortium-bid-myanmar-telecom-license