South Korea offered to assist North Korea in fighting foot-and-mouth disease on Monday in a new sign of thawing cross-border ties.
Pyongyang this month reported the first outbreak of the highly infectious livestock disease since 2011 to the World Organization for Animal Health.
“There is a need to urgently respond to prevent and eradicate foot-and-month disease in the North. We delivered our intention to provide assistance and offered working-level talks on details,” an Unification Ministry official said.
“We will take necessary measures in line with the North’s response.”
The South is considering providing preventive medicine and equipment, the official added.
The proposal comes as family reunions continued at a North Korean mountain resort for hundreds of South and North Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea on Feb. 21 confirmed that the disease broke out at a pig farm in a suburb of Pyongyang on Jan. 8. The disease has spread to 17 areas in Pyongyang and in Junghwa County, North Hwanghae Province. The outbreak is attributed to a lack of vaccines, diagnostic means and disinfectants.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency reported that of 3,200 pigs infected by FMD Type O viruses, some 360 died from the disease while 2,900 were culled, causing huge financial losses.
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said the government may significantly boost its humanitarian and economic support for North Korea this year.
In an annual report to President Park Geun-hye, the ministry said it will seek to develop and pursue new humanitarian and economic projects that can best assist the North Korean people.
The projects could include providing materials and equipment for farming and greenhouses, and establishing joint farming and reforestation projects.
“First of all, the government plans to work with international and non-governmental organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, while also launching a government committee in preparation for the resumption of the country’s agricultural cooperation with the North,” it said in a press release.
The ministry, however, said the start of such assistance depended on improvements in relations between the Koreas, which have been tense under the one-year-old Park Geun-hye administration.
“Improved South-North relations are a prerequisite to these measures. The agriculture ministry alone cannot decide and resume assistance to the North, but it is making various preparations, just in case,” a ministry official told reporters.
In a rare gesture of rapprochement, the North agreed earlier this month to resume Red Cross-sponsored reunions between divided families after a nearly four-year suspension. The latest rounds of family reunions have been underway at the North’s mountain resort of Geumgang since last week.
Agricultural cooperation, along with humanitarian food aid, is believed to be critical to the North, which suffers from chronic food shortages.
South Korea provided some 872 billion won ($811 million) worth of rice aid to the North between 1995 and 2007, but the aid was suspended in 2008 under the then conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, which linked food shipments with the North giving up its nuclear development.
The communist North conducted its third and latest nuclear test last February. An official from Seoul’s unification ministry earlier said the country had no immediate plans to resume its rice aid.