South Korea: Soldiers 'scramble for payphones'

Soldiers using phone boxes in Seoul

A ban on South Korean soldiers carrying mobile phones has left them reliant on a dwindling number of payphones, it appears.

Newspaper JoongAng Daily finds men in combat fatigues queuing in front of five pay phones at the Western Annex of Seoul Station, including 20-year-old Jang Ik-jin who's calling his girlfriend. "Pay phones may seem like archaeological urban artefacts to most people," it suggests, "but for Jang they are a precious lifeline to his girlfriend. Without them, the relationship might have ended." There used to be 20 payphones in the station's main hall. Just five remain, the paper says.

Operator KT reportedly removed almost a quarter of its booths - leaving 74,000 - in the past four years, as the prevalence of mobiles caused demand to plummet. Not all have disappeared from the streets, however, with the company adding new features such as ATMs. The paper shows images of booths doubling as unmanned libraries - similar to those tried in the US and UK - or shelters for tourist maps. Security fears over mobiles have caused a headache for many armed forces, with the US army last year suggesting geo-tagged Facebook posts risked soldiers' lives. The Israeli military is also among those reported to have restricted social media use.

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