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PRISTINA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Kosovo has postponed for a third time the bid deadline for its state telecoms company until March 14, saying that interested buyers need more time to gather funding.
A previous attempt to sell the Balkan country's most profitable company collapsed in 2011 after corruption charges were filed against a number of senior company officials.
The saga has clouded Kosovo's efforts to attract foreign investors, who are often put off by its reputation for deep-rooted organised crime.
"With the aim of protecting the interests of the state, and to avoid a rush that might yield low offers, we have decided to extend the bidding for another six weeks," Economy Minister Besim Beqaj told a press conference on Thursday.
The previous deadline was the end of January.
Government officials say that interested bidders are looking for financial backing from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, of which Kosovo became a member in December.
The country of 1.7 million people declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is struggling to attract foreign investors.
Kosovo's Post and Telecom (PTK) has more than 1 million mobile subscribers and 100,000 landline customers. It also provides internet and cable TV services. The government is offering to sell 75 percent, not including the postal arm of the company.
Beqaj said Columbia Capital USA, part of a consortium that included ACP Axos Capital Gmbh and British Telecom had left the race and would be replaced by another U.S. company.
He also confirmed that Albright Capital Management in cooperation with Portugal Telecom had dropped out.
According to its website, ACM is chaired by Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. Secretary of State and a key figure in the 1998-99 Kosovo war that saw NATO air power used to help halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians by Serb forces.
Three other international bidders as listed on the ministry's website are:
* M1 International Ltd, Lebanon
* Turkcell, Turkey
* Twelve Hornbeams, UK (Innova Capital) and Avicenna Capital LLC, UK, in cooperation with Sofrecom which is part of France Telecom
The government said in 2010 it hoped to make 300-600 million euros ($387-773 million) from the sale but has not given a more recent valuation.