Viettel eyes Ethiopia telecoms sector as government opens market

* Forex-strapped govt plans to liberalise sector

* International telcos vying for foothold in market

JOHANNESBURG, July 30 (Reuters) - Vietnam’s state-owned telecom company Viettel is eyeing opportunities in Ethiopia, a company official said on Monday, after the government there announced its intention to liberalise key economic sectors including telecommunications.

The Ethiopian government announced last month it plans to open up Ethiopian Airlines, the state logistics firm and the power monopoly to private investment. But the state telecommunications monopoly is seen as the biggest prize due to its huge protected market.

The plan is still in its early stages, but scenarios outlined by the authorities include the sale of a minority stake in state-owned Ethio Telecom, the granting of licences to new operators or a combination of both.

“With the experiences of Viettel over the years, the option of granting a new operation licence will create better competition for telcos which is also the option that we prefer,” a company representative told Reuters.

Viettel currently operates or holds licenses in African markets including Mozambique, Burundi, Cameroon and Tanzania.

The official said even if the Ethiopia initially opts to only sell a stake in Ethio Telecom, which boasts over 60 million mobile subscribers, Viettel could still be interested.

“If Ethiopian government offers the clear and sensitive option for selling of Ethio Telecom’s shares, Viettel will still thoroughly consider this option if it is suitable with Viettel’s investment strategies,” the official said.

Other foreign telecoms companies that have expressed their interest in one of Africa’s last remaining monopoly markets include Johannesburg-listed MTN and France’s Orange .

Reuters reported this month that Kenya’s Safaricom , whose parents are South Africa’s Vodacom and Britain’s Vodafone, is in advanced talks to introduce its popular M-Pesa mobile money service there.

Reporting by Joe Bavier; editing by David Evans