L.M. Ericsson and Motorola Inc. say they don’t expect to pull workers out of Lebanon at this time, where two digital wireless phone networks are under construction, despite escalating violence in the area.

The Israeli military bombed numerous sites in southern Lebanon last week to capture world attention and pressure Lebanese and Syrian leaders into stabilizing the region.

Ericsson is familiar with such volatile situations and has temporarily ceased construction on the $46 million Cellis network it is building in southern Lebanon for France Telecom Mobiles Liban.

Employees have been instructed to curtail unnecessary travel and the situation is being monitored hourly.

“Seriously speaking, you can’t avoid these type of situations when you’re active in 100 countries,” said Lars Stalberg, Ericsson senior vice president of corporate relations.

The violence in Lebanon bears watching, but the situation can’t be compared to the 1990 incident when 30 Ericsson employees constructing a system in Kuwait were seized by invading Iraqi soldiers. The employees were held hostage for six months.

“I don’t see any resemblance to that situation. That was an outright invasion of an entire country. We’re in a wait and see mode right now, continuously monitoring developments,” Stalberg said.

Lebanon, particularly southern Lebanon, has been an unstable area since the 1975-76 civil war.

The nation’s first analog cellular network wasn’t installed until 1991. Since then, two systems using Global System for Mobile communications also have been constructed.

France Telecom has been in Lebanon since 1994. The Cellis GSM network was launched in March of 1995 and claims about 60,000 subscribers. By year’s end, enough additional base stations and switches will have been added to boost capacity to 100,000, France Telecom said. A roaming feature will allow France Telecom’s Itineris subscribers to roam with their GSM phone in Lebanon.

Illinois-based Motorola is building a nationwide GSM system for LibanCell under a $20 million contract from Siemens. The first phase was launched recently, providing capacity for 30,000 subscribers in greater Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city.

Motorola now is working on the second phase; LibanCell expects to have 80,000 subscribers by year’s end. After the third phase of construction, the system will be able to provide service for 150,000 users, Motorola said.

Lebanon’s population is about 3.6 million; about a third of those people live in Beirut. The nation’s land mass is smaller than the state of Connecticut.


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