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All Headlines 10:43 May 08, 2008


Mobile Phone Service Being Established in N.K.: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The groundwork for establishment of a mobile phone service is being laid in North Korea, said an official of an Egyptian company preparing to operate the service in the isolated communist country, according to a Washington-based radio station in early May.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) on May 1 quoted Stefano Songini, investor relations director of Orascom Telecom Holding S.A.E., as saying in an e-mail interview, "Our operation people are currently on the ground working on the deployment of the business."

Orascom is the fourth-largest Arab mobile phone operator based in Cairo, Egypt.

Songini, however, said, "We have not officially communicated a launch date for our operations." Orascom earlier said the service will likely begin in May.

The RFA said the groundwork could mean setting up telecom towers or checking connections among mobile base stations, citing communication analysts in the United States.

Orascom said in a Jan. 30 press release that its subsidiary Cheo Technology was granted "the first commercial license to provide a mobile telephony service" in North Korea.

Cheo secured a 25-year license and will invest up to US$400 million in network infrastructure over the first three years, along with service for the capital city Pyongyang and most of the major cities during the first 12 months in operation.

North Korean mobile phones will use the Wideband Code Division Multiple Access system, which can provide coverage of not only voice but also data like music and moving pictures, the RFA added.


U.S. Commission Says N.K. Still Country of Concern on Religious Freedom

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.S. commission recommended on May 2 that the State Department re-designate North Korea a "country of particular concern" for religious persecution, as has been done since 2001.

The Commission on International Religious Freedom updated its annual report this year with interviews of 38 additional North Korean refugees who testified to harsh treatment of repatriated North Koreans who admit or are found to have had contact with South Korean humanitarian organizations while hiding in China, or to having converted to Christianity.

Former police officials interviewed said Pyongyang views such religious contact and conversion as a "security threat," said the report.

Created under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the commission works independently of the executive branch. Its report goes to the president and secretary of state.

North Korea's police recently started new measures to halt distribution of religious literature and to uncover clandestine religious activities by infiltrating churches in China and setting up mock prayer meetings in North Korea to entrap converts, according to the report.

Pyongyang tightly controls all means of transmitting information, including cellular phones, and in October executed the head of a factory in front of 150,000 people because he had made international phone calls, it said.

But despite such oppression, the commission said again this year that it "continues to receive credible reports that underground religious activity, or that which takes place outside of government sanction and control, is growing."

This year's report reasserted that the U.S. government should include human rights agendas in the six-nation talks on Pyongyang's denuclearization to link "future economic assistance and diplomatic recognition to concrete progress in these areas."

The commission also urged the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights to open an office in Seoul for technical assistance programs on transnational issues including abduction, human trafficking, police and border guard training and political prisoners.


Australia Will Not Resume Economic Aid for Nuclear-armed North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said on May 7 that his country will not resume development assistance for North Korea unless it takes "substantial" steps towards denuclearization.

The minister, on a three-day trip in Seoul from May 6, however, said Canberra will continue providing humanitarian aid without attaching any conditions.

He stressed that cooperation between the new Australian and South Korean governments is essential in addressing the nuclear crisis and other regional concerns.

"The nuclear weapons of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) pose a serious threat to regional stability. Both our countries are committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Smith said at a forum, using the official name of the communist nation. He took office five months ago following the Australian Labor Party's win in elections.

He expressed support for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's policy on the North.

"President Lee's firm position on the DPRK - making economic assistance conditional on progress towards denuclearization and an improvement in the DPRK's human rights record, while keeping humanitarian aid unconditional, aligns closely with our own policy approach," he said.

"Australia has suspended development assistance until the DPRK makes substantial progress towards denuclearization," he added.

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