N Korea suspends mobile phone rentals for foreign visitors

Beijing, Feb 21 (Kyodo) North Korea has suspendedrental of mobile phones to foreign visitors since January,visitors to the country said today, a move that may reflectconcern in the North over the flow of information aboutdemocracy demonstrations sweeping the Middle East.

But some visitors quoted North Korean officials assaying the country unofficially decided to suspend the servicelate last year because of a change in the communicationssystem.

As of today, North Korea''s official media has yet toreport on the situation in the Middle East, including theoverthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Pyongyang is believed to be wary of the inflow andcirculation of information from abroad that may lead to a callfor regime-change in the country, prompting speculation thesuspension of the mobile phone rental service may last for along time.

North Korea bans foreign visitors, includingdiplomats, from bringing mobile phones into the country.

North Korean authorities routinely seize foreignvisitors'' mobile phones at Pyongyang airport or elsewhere andreturn them as they leave the country.

Until last year, foreign visitors were allowed to rentmobile phones capable of making international calls, butrecent visitors quoted North Korean officials as saying thecountry has restricted rentals to foreign residents only sinceJanuary.

North Korea began mobile phone rentals for foreignersin late 2008 through investments by Orascom Telecom HoldingSAE, an Egyptian company that provides mobile phone service inthe North in a joint venture with Korea Posts and TelecommCorp.

The rental phones for foreigners cannot be connected tomore than 600,000 handsets of domestic users, while domesticusers cannot make international calls. (Kyodo)

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