N.Korea 'Reeling from Foot-and-Mouth Disease'

Foot-and-mouth disease is sweeping North Korea, Radio Free Asia quoted Saturday a North Korean source. The U.S.-funded radio station said the regime has stopped issuing travel permits to Pyongyang from provinces since the highly contagious animal disease broke out there.

A guard post between Pyongyang and Pyongsong is preventing vehicles from entering the capital, it added. Pyongyang was the first location where the disease broke out.

According to a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) submitted Tuesday by the North's Agricultural Ministry, six cows were first confirmed to have the disease in Pyongyang's Sadong district on Dec. 25. Now it has spread nationwide except for the Hamgyong provinces, with cases confirmed at 48 locations, 15 of which were in Pyongyang. In the city's Ryokpo area 4,350 pigs died of the disease.

As pig farms in Pyongyang run by the party and the Army's Guard Command were among those affected, the regime was reluctant to admit the outbreak, RFA said. It tried to contain the disease only with pesticides and lime, leading to rapid spread to neighboring provinces such as Hwanghae and Gangwon.

"Koksan in Hwanghae Province is home to many military pig farms," a North Korean source said. "If the area has been affected the military must have suffered a great deal of damage." The North in the report said vaccination efforts with a homegrown vaccine made little difference.

However, there are claims that the outbreak is giving North Koreans an opportunity to eat meat. RFA said as soon as a pig was spotted drooling or staggering in Gangwon Province, residents immediately culled it for sale in the market. That caused a drop in pork prices in the province, leading to an influx of buyers from as far afield as South Pyongan Province, it added.

Free North Korea Radio said that on leader Kim Jong-il's birthday last Thursday, meat from infected cattle and pigs was distributed to residents in Daehongdan, Ryanggang Province. A North Korean defector who was a veterinarian said when livestock contract FMD in North Korea, they are not buried but eaten.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 21, 2011 13:21 KST