By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia’s Greek-owned telecommunications monopoly, ArmenTel, would not comment Tuesday on a government offer to start fresh negotiations on settling their long-running dispute.
Justice Minister David Harutiunian proposed on Monday two-month marathon talks with the ArmenTel management on all sticking points, including the highly controversial introduction of per-minute billing for domestic phone calls.
The government has threatened to strip the company of its operating license if it tries to enforce the measure effective from September 1. Minister of Transport and Communications Andranik Markarian and other top officials have urged Armenians to ignore the new phone bills which they began to receive this month. They argue that ArmenTel’s parent company, the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE), has failed to honor its investment commitments and therefore can not raise phone charges.
But OTE has consistently denied the charge, insisting that it has already invested $125 million in Armenia’s telecom sector, more than was required by the terms of its 1998 purchase of ArmenTel. The state-controlled Greek firm also argues that the takeover deal allows it to set tariffs unilaterally.
Some analysts say Harutiunian’s proposal represents a softening of the government’s stance. But others speculate that Yerevan is simply intent on freezing the row for the rest of the year.
An ArmenTel spokeswoman refused on comment on the offer, saying that the company will officially react to it when its chief executive, Nikos Georgulas, returns from Greece later this week.