North orders soldiers to fight bird flu
North Korea has mobilized thousands of soldiers to combat an outbreak of bird flu that has infected poultry flocks around the capital Pyongyang, South Korean officials said yesterday.
“Thousands of soldiers from the Pyongyang Defense Command and 3d Army Corps are involved in the slaughter and burial of diseased fowl,” a Unification Ministry official told the JoongAng Ilbo.
Farms named Hadang, Seopo and Mangyeongdae in the vicinity of Pyongyang are where the outbreak first occurred. The troops are quarantining the areas, the official said. No transmission of the disease to humans has been reported.
According to the Unification Ministry, the North’s mobilization of the military is evidence of the seriousness of the situation. North Korean troops, after finishing winter drills this month, were scheduled to assist farmers during spring planting, the ministry said. The North shifted the assignment of the soldiers to cope with the spread of bird flu, officials said.
In response to the situation, North Korea permitted a UN veterinary expert to assess the outbreak. An expert from the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization flew to Pyongyang Tuesday, the UN body said. The World Health Organization, which has a mission in Pyongyang, is also aiding efforts to combat the disease.
North Korea experts and South Korean officials are concerned that the famine-stricken country is losing a major source of protein as a result of the slaughter. In the late 1990s, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il launched a catfish farming campaign to overcome the food crisis and ordered the military in 2000 to build poultry farms. According to the Unification Ministry, the country produces about 20 million chickens and ducks annually to feed its population of 24 million.
There is worry as well over quarantine measures. North Korea concealed the outbreak for nearly a month until the country’s state media reported Sunday that the bird flu outbreak erupted in late February. South Korea offered to provide help to control the disease on Tuesday, but the North had not replied as of yesterday.
North Korea lacks the ability to control the deadly disease, experts in the South said.
“Because of the country’s isolated nature, it will be easy to quarantine the infected areas,” said a South Korean expert, who did not want to be named. “But due to the extremely poor disinfection capability, North Korea won’t be able to cope with this outbreak. Since there are three farms infected simultaneously, it is hard to trust the North’s announcement that there have been no human cases.”
by Lee Young-jong, Ser Myo-ja