Seoul remains lukewarm toward assistance amid stalemate in ties
The U.N. has said it will send experts to North Korea next week over a purported foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, in the first international move to help the impoverished state curb the fast-spreading livestock virus.
While the South Korean government so far remains lukewarm toward joining the move, North Korea’s apparent call for outside help may provide a new development in the stalemate of inter-Korean relations, analysts say.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. will dispatch between three and five experts to Pyongyang to determine the seriousness of the outbreak unveiled this week, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia reported Friday, citing an unnamed official.
North Korea revealed to the world that it had been hit with the highly contagious disease Thursday, more than 40 days after the first outbreak in Pyongyang late last year. The communist North rarely shares information with the outside world unless it is considered absolutely necessary or self-beneficial.
According to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, thousands of animals, including cows and pigs, have died despite quarantine officials’ efforts to prevent the spread of the virus which has already hit eight provinces.
South Korea has been battling the virus itself since November last year, causing more than 3 million livestock to be culled.
It remains unclear whether the disease spread from the South to the North as Pyongyang had banned South Korean pork and beef from entering the country last year.
The Seoul government is currently “under no consideration” to provide Pyongyang with assistance, said the Unification Ministry here, which handles affairs with North Korea.
North Korea confirmed to the South that it had culled 466 cows and 2,630 pigs due to the disease, but has not asked for assistance, the ministry said in a brief statement Friday.
“It is unlikely that the (South Korean) government will offer aid in advance,” an unnamed official here said, citing the recent breakdown of inter-Korean defense talks and Pyongyang’s reluctance to apologize for the two military provocations last year. “We must consider the negative public sentiment here.”
Seoul sent 2.6 billion won worth of medicine and disinfectants, and also a team of veterinarians to North Korea in 2007, when the country had asked for help in controlling the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak then.
“But we cannot overlook the fact the outbreak in the North may worsen the situation here,” the official added. “Although this may not lead to direct aid, the government might decide to join the international move by indirectly taking part in the dispatch by the U.N. and other organizations.”
A two-day colonel-level inter-Korean talks came to an abrupt end Wednesday after North Korean delegates walked out on their South Korean counterparts claiming there was “no more need to talk.”
North Korea has been refusing to add its two apparent attacks against a Seoul warship and border island last year to the agenda of higher-level inter-Korean talks, a persistent request by South Korea.
The breakdown of the talks dimmed recent prospects that the inter-Korean dialogue will help ease tension on the divided peninsula and lead to larger-scale multinational peace talks with the nuclear-armed North.
During his meeting with reporters Wednesday, Seoul’s Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said the government will “continue to watch” how the outbreak in the North turns out, adding efforts toward dialogue will continue.
The foot-and-mouth disease does not affect humans, but is highly contagious among cloven-hooted animals. The disease causes blisters on the mouths and feet of livestock and leads to death.
By Shin Hae-in (firstname.lastname@example.org)