Foot-and-mouth officially confirmed in North Korea

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Foot-and-mouth officially confirmed in North Korea

For the first time in recent months, North Korea admitted it was suffering from an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

“More than 10,000 heads of draught oxen, milk cows and pigs have been infected with the disease so far, and thousands of them died,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported late Thursday evening, “The dead animals have been buried.”

The report said that eight provinces had been hit with outbreaks, with Pyongyang, North Hwanghae Province and Kangwon Province affected the worst.

“Now the infected areas are quarantined and disinfected and measures are being taken to treat those infected with the disease,” said KCNA, quoting Ri Kyong-gun, department director of the North’s agriculture ministry.

Speculation had centered on whether North Korea was suffering from outbreaks of the disease like its southern neighbor, which has barely been able to control its spread. Until last week, the South Korean government said it was “observing the situation” in the North, but didn’t confirm any cases until yesterday.

“Up until now North Korea has not requested any aid from South Korea regarding the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease,” Ministry of Unification spokesman Chun Hae-sung said yesterday. “The government currently does not have any plans to aid the North with its epidemic.”

The spokesman said North Korea had applied for international help to control the disease. The U.S.-based Radio Free Asia said the North reported cases of foot-and-mouth disease to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and that the international organization decided to send a team of three to five people, including a veterinarian and pandemic specialists.

North Korea requested help in the past from the South during outbreaks of diseases like foot-and-mouth and reported exact numbers of affected animals. When it officially asked for aid in preventing the spread of FMD in March 2007, North Korea reported 466 cattle and 2,630 swine had been culled, according to the Unification Ministry. Seoul responded by sending 2.6 billion won ($2.3 million) worth of aid, including sterilization equipment and medicine.

Pyongyang has not requested aid, with relations between the North and South becoming frigid after North Korea stormed out of working-level military talks with the South earlier this week. Government officials haven’t ruled out the possibility the North could use the outbreak to restart dialogue.


By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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