Serbia strips largest cell-phone carrier of its license over Kosovo deal

BELGRADE (AP) – The Serbian government yesterday stripped the country’s largest mobile phone operator of its license, saying it had harmed national interests by making a deal with a Kosovo company. The government said in a statement that Mobtel had made a business agreement with Mobikos company, owned by an ethnic Albanian from the town of Pec in the UN-run Kosovo province, without the necessary state approval. «In this way, Mobtel illegally extended to Kosovo the state mobile phone operating license… jeopardizing the national security interests of the Serbian state,» the government said. It was not immediately clear when the disputed agreement was made. It apparently enabled Mobtel’s mobile phones to operate in Kosovo, which has been run by the United Nations and NATO since 1999. The government added that Mobtel also had harmed Serbia’s economic interests by enabling the Kosovo company to make enormous profits by using the state mobile operating license and infrastructure. Kosovo is formally a part of Serbia, but Belgrade has had no authority over the region since 1999, when the Alliance’s air war forced former president Slobodan Milosevic to end a crackdown against Kosovo separatist rebels. Kosovo’s final status is to be decided at UN-brokered talks next year. The government said that the approval for Mobtel’s arrangement with the Kosovo company «only should have and could have come from the government.» There was no immediate comment from Mobtel to the announcement. Mobtel was founded by Serbia’s state-run PTT Serbia and Bogoljub Karic, one of Serbia’s wealthiest businessmen and the leader of an increasingly popular political party. But Karic and the government have clashed over who owns the majority share in the company and the dispute is to be resolved by an international court in Zurich, Switzerland. Karic earlier this year sold his share in Mobtel to an Austrian consortium.