(ATTN: ADDS vice unification minister's comments in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has not responded to South Korea's offer to work together to stem the spread of African swine fever after Pyongyang recently confirmed the outbreak of the highly contagious animal disease, the unification ministry said Monday.
Last month, North Korea reported to the World Organization for Animal Health the outbreak of African swine fever at a farm in its northern region bordering China.
On Friday, the South proposed through an inter-Korean liaison office in the North's border city of Kaesong that the two Koreas work together to prevent the disease from spreading, and the North said it will review the proposal.
"We have not yet heard anything special (other than Friday's response) from North Korea," Lee Sang-min, the ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. "If anything new comes up, we will let you know."
African swine fever does not infect humans but can be fatal for pigs because it has no known treatment or vaccines. Since its outbreak in China in August, the disease has spread to neighboring countries, like Mongolia and Vietnam.
North Korea has not officially informed the South of the outbreak despite their agreement in November to share information on contagious illnesses in either side to combat and block the spread of contagious diseases across their border.
The swine fever outbreak is feared to add to worries about the impoverished state's already strained food situation as it could devastate its livestock industry.
South Korea has stepped up its own preventive efforts to stem the spread of the disease to its farmers across the border, especially intensifying monitoring on livestock being raised along the border with North Korea.
The government held a meeting of relevant agencies and at-risk municipalities located near the inter-Korean border later in the day to draw up cooperative plans to fight a possible spread of the disease.
After attending the meeting, Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho told reporters that the government needs to consult with the U.S. on its push for cross-border cooperation with the North against the swine fever. Suh's comments are an apparent reference to the need for an exemption from global sanctions for the possible shipping of medication or equipment to the North to fight the disease.
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