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Communication limited in N. Korea's Rason economic zone: report

All Headlines 11:42 September 20, 2011

SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- Communication remains difficult in North Korea's special economic zone of Rason despite the existence of a local mobile phone network, according to a recent report by a foreign visitor to the area.

The network is operated by a Thai company, Loxley Pacific Co., but foreigners are not yet allowed to own or use a phone on the network, according to Andray Abrahamian, an executive director for Choson Exchange, a Singaporean organization that facilitates educational exchanges with North Koreans.

Abrahamian traveled to Rason in late August to attend a trade fair there.

"Direct communication between foreigners and their partners in Rason remains difficult," he wrote in his report posted on Choson Exchange's Web site. "International calling is nonexistent. Group emails do exist for administrators and managers in Rason, but they are unreliable. At some point in 2012, both international calling and individual email is expected to be permitted, though exactly when is unclear."

The local network operates separately from an Egyptian-North Korean joint venture that has been providing mobile services in Pyongyang and other parts of the country since 2008, he said.

North Korea designated Rason as a special economic zone in 1991 and has since striven to develop it into a regional transportation hub, though no major progress has been made. The area borders both China and Russia.

North Korea first launched mobile phone service jointly with the Thai company in Pyongyang and Rason 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 Pyongyang regime.

hague@yna.co.kr
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