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(LEAD) N. Korean leader meets with head of Egyptian mobile phone service provider Orascom
SEOUL, Jan. 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met with the head of an Egyptian firm that provides mobile phone service in the isolated communist nation, state media reported Monday, a move seen as aimed at attracting more investment from the company.

   Naguib Sawiris, chairman and CEO of Orascom Telecom Holding, has been in North Korea for a visit since Friday. The Cairo-based firm has been providing mobile phone service in the North via a joint venture it set up with the government in Pyongyang, since late 2008.

   Kim "warmly welcomed his DPRK visit taking place at a time when Orascom's investment is making successful progress in different fields of the DPRK, including telecommunications," Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said. DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name.

   Kim had "a cordial talk" with the businessman and hosted a dinner for him, the KCNA said.

   Also present at the meeting was Jang Song-thaek, Kim's brother-in-law and vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, the KCNA said. It was the first time that Jang's activity has been reported in state media this year.

  
Naguib Sawiris (C), chairman and CEO of Orascom Telecom Holding, arrives at an airport in Pyongyang on Jan. 21. (KCNA-Yonhap)


"It may have been an occasion to build Orascom's trust (in North Korea) and to recommend additional investment," said Lim Eul-chool, a professor at Kyungnam University's Institute for Far East Studies in Seoul.

   Lim said that it is very unusual for Kim and Jang to meet together with a foreign businessman, which suggests that the North is "putting a great deal of energy into foreign capital attraction."

   Giving credence to the view is that Sawiris previously visited the North in 2008 and 2009, but there were no reports of him meeting the North's leader at the time. Jang has also reportedly been heading a government committee in charge of overseeing efforts to win foreign investment.

   Lim said that the North appears to be feeling urgency to improve the livelihood of its people ahead of 2012, the centenary of the birth of the North's national founder Kim Il-sung. The regime has promised its hunger-stricken population that they will live in a "great, prosperous and powerful" nation by then.

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

   In 2008, the country reversed its policy and introduced a 3G mobile phone network in the joint venture with Orascom.

   However, the overall "mobile penetration" remains at 1 percent in the country that has a per-capita GDP of US$1,900, according to Orascom.

  (END)