North Korea has been restricting the use of cell phones to prevent its residents from sharing news about a worsening food crisis, according to a report on the The Times of London Web site.
The Times story cites a report to the United Nations General Assembly from a human rights investigator that claims the government has been intimidating its citizens with public executions and has been limiting the use of cell phones to discourage people from sharing information about what is happening in the country.
Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN investigator from Thailand, claims the clampdown on cell phone and long-distance telephone calls was to prevent people from reporting on food shortages, the Web site reported.
The site also said that recent visitors to the country have reported that the North Korean government has been confiscating cell phones.
"The few foreign tourists who travel there are made to surrender their mobiles on arrival; these are then sealed and returned only when departing the country," the site said.
There has also been a report that the government will launch a new cell phone service early next year that restricts users to communicate only with people within North Korea. Subscribers would not be able to call or accept calls from outside the country.
News of these restrictions comes just days after the UN World Food Program announced that 2.7 million people on North Korea's west coast will run out of food in October. This is nearly two thirds of the North Korean population.
Flooding in 2006 and 2007 has destroyed crops in the country, exacerbating the food crisis. The WFP report called the situation a humanitarian emergency that has reached a critical level.