There are eight parties, including South Africa's Telkom and India's MTNL, left in the race to buy Zamtel, Zambia's fixed-line telephone operator, the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) said on Thursday.

The Zambian government, which is offering between 51 and 75 percent of its Zamtel stake, has received expression of interest from more than 30 suitors through the ZDA, which is handling the sale.

ZDA has shortlisted eight prequalified bidders, who will start due diligence procedures on Nov. 2, the ZDA said in a statement, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

The process is likely to be completed in the first quarter of 2010.

Shortlisted suitors for Zamtel, which also has a mobile operator, Cell-Z, could not immediately be reached for comment.

South Africa's Telkom, Africa's biggest fixed-line operator, which is sitting on about 10 billion rand ($1.35 billion) after selling its mobile unit Vodacom to Britain's Vodafone, is on the shortlist.

Telkom will be competing with two Indian state-run telecoms companies, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Others on the shortlist are: a consortium of Russia's second-biggest mobile phone operator Vimpelcom and Altimo, the telecoms arm of Russia's Alfa Group; a consortium of Egypt's Orascom Telecom and its subsidiary Telecel Globe; Angola's UNITEL -- a consortium of Unitel S.A and Angola Cables S.A; Portugal Telecom; and a consortium of Libya's LAP Greencom and LAP Green Networks.

The long-planned privatisation of Zamtel has been criticised by opposition politicians, who say Zambians should hold a bigger stake in the company.

Zamtel's revenue for the year to end-December was $100 million. It is Zambia's only licensed fixed-line provider of voice and data communications.

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