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(LEAD) Military reinforces battle to stem spread of foot-and-mouth disease

All Headlines 17:32 January 06, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS details, photo in final four paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- Nearly 70,000 troops and hundreds of pieces of military equipment have been mobilized to help the government's extensive quarantine efforts to contain a fast-spreading outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), the defense ministry said Thursday.

"The military has so far mobilized some 68,000 soldiers and 772 pieces of military equipment to help stem the spread of FMD," Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters. "The military will continue to expand its support down the road."

Since the first outbreak was reported in Andong, a city in southeastern South Korea in late November of last year, the animal disease has spread out of control, reaching neighboring areas of Seoul.

More than 948,000 cows and pigs have so far been culled, and the vaccination of hundreds of thousands of animals is under way in some of the worst-hit areas.

Earlier in the day, President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting with relevant ministers, including Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, calling for "fundamental measures," according to Lee's office.

The current outbreaks are the severest ever in South Korea's history, officials said. FMD is fatal for cloven-hoofed animals, including cows, pigs and goats, causing blisters on the mouth and feet. It does not affect humans.

The FMD epidemic prompted the military to ban field training at a site within a 10-kilometer radius of the infected area, ministry officials said.

"This is clearly of massive concern for the military. Troops and equipment will be drafted until the disease disappears," a ministry official said.

South Korea has also been on high alert for bird flu since the H5N1 avian influenza virus was found at poultry farms on Dec. 31 of last year. Authorities have culled some 200,000 birds since then.

The military will dispatch additional troops and street flusher trucks to 41 habitats of migratory birds to help local governments keep the deadly disease from spreading, the official said.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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