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Number of mobile phone users in N. Korea tops 500,000: operator

All Headlines 14:47 June 17, 2011

SEOUL, June 17 (Yonhap) -- The number of mobile phone users in North Korea has topped 500,000, according to a cell phone service provider's data disclosed Friday, in a sign of growing mobile penetration in the isolated country.

Egypt's Orascom Telecom has been providing mobile services in North Korea since 2008 through Koryolink, a joint venture set up with the North.

The number of subscribers in the North jumped to more than 535,000 as of March, up 420 percent from the same time last year, according to Orascom Telecom.

It was not immediately clear whether ordinary North Koreans could make or receive international calls.

The development comes as North Korea is struggling to restrict access to outside information that Pyongyang fears could undermine its control of its 24 million people.

In recent years, the North has cracked down on mobile phones smuggled from China that could be used to communicate with people in China and South Korea, according to defectors in the South.

North Korea first launched mobile phone service in Pyongyang in 2002, but banned it after a deadly explosion in a northern train station in 2004, possibly out of concern that it could be used in a plot against the regime.

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