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UAE telco Etisalat will not exit foreign markets: CEO

By Matt Smith

DUBAI (Reuters) - Etisalat , the Gulf's No.2 telecommunications operator, will not completely sell out of any of its foreign markets, the company's chief executive said on Sunday.

The United Arab Emirates firm, which operates in about 17 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, sold a 9.1 percent stake in Indonesian mobile firm PT XL Axiata for $510 million in September, but retained a 4.2 percent holding.

The Indonesian sale, which followed Etisalat's exit from India, was seen by some analysts as part of a broad push to trim back underperforming foreign units. But chief executive Ahmad Julfar insisted on Sunday that the company would retain its current footprint.

"We are not going to exit any markets," Julfar told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai. "We are very happy with our international operations, even Africa."

In Africa, Etisalat owns 66 percent of Egypt's Etisalat Misr, 40 percent of Etisalat Nigeria and 65 percent of Tanzania's Zantel, plus Atlantique Telecom, which has mobile licenses in six countries, and a majority stake in Sudan fixed line operator Canar.

In the UAE, du ended Etisalat's domestic monopoly in 2007, with the smaller operator claiming a 46.5 percent share of the country's mobile subscribers by the end of June this year.

The two operators, both majority-owned by government-linked institutions, are still at loggerheads over a network-sharing deal that would allow them to compete on fixed-line services.

Both offer fixed-line voice, broadband and television services but not in the same districts of the UAE, and an agreement was slated to be finalized by the end of 2011.

"It's the commercial pricing between us and du only," said Julfar. "That's in discussion now. It could happen this year, it could happen next year. We have not reached commercial terms yet. It could happen in one month, but it could take three to four months also."

(Editing by Andrew Torchia)

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