Orascom Telecom CEO meets North Korean leader

The CEO of Egypt's Orascom Telecom has been given a rare honor during his current trip to Pyongyang: an audience with Kim Jong-il and dinner hosted by the reclusive leader for the businessman whose firm owns a majority of North Korea's only 3G cellular network.

Naguib Sawiris arrived in the North Korean capital on Friday and was received on Sunday by Kim Jong-il, the Korea Central News Agency reported on Monday.

Kim Jong-il, "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," the report said.

Orascom holds a 75 percent stake in Cheo Technology, which operates North Korea's only 3G cellular network.

The network, the remaining stake in which is held by the government, uses the Koryolink service name. It has seen fast growth in subscribers and currently claims more than 300,000 accounts in just the two years since its launch.

After starting first in Pyongyang, the network has been expanded to cover provincial capitals and smaller cities and a 3G signal is now within reach of 75 percent of the population, the company said in November last year.

The Orascom group has made several other investments in the country. In 2007 it invested in a cement factory and in late 2008, at around the same time it launched the 3G network, it opened a local bank. The company has also been tied to renewed construction work at Pyongyang's pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel. The iconic building was halted in 1992 and has remained vacant ever since.

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Tags Kim Jong IlNaguib SawirisCheo Technologytelecommunication3gCarriersOrascom Telecom

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Martyn Williams

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