June 6 (UPI) -- South Korean authorities are concerned an epidemic of African swine fever could sweep in from North Korea.
North Korea first publicly disclosed to the World Organization for Animal Health an outbreak on May 30 at a state-owned cooperative farm in Jagang Province, not far from China.
China may be the origin of swine fever in the region. The first case was reported in August, and the epidemic has led to the slaughter of 1.2 million pigs in China, North Korea's most important trading partner.
North Korea has not updated the outside world since May on the status of the disease, and whether authorities are handling the situation to mitigate its spread.
Pyongyang's silence is raising concerns in the South, Yonhap reported Thursday.
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon suggested Wednesday during a visit to an animal hygiene facility in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province, that animal carriers crossing the Korean demilitarized zone could carry the disease and damage pig farms in the South.
"A wild boar can travel at [more than 9 mph], and there is no guarantee wild boars remain exclusively in Jagang Province," Lee said.
The prime minister also said it can be readily assumed the disease would have at this point traveled as far south as Kaesong, the North Korean city situated close to the DMZ.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said this week he is monitoring the situation for reports of other outbreaks south of Jagang Province.
The situation poses stiff challenges for Seoul because Pyongyang has refused to answer calls for direct communication. According to Yonhap, North Koreans also raise pigs on privately owned farms, making the disease harder to track by the state.
North Korea has been unresponsive to the South's call for coordination on containing the epidemic at a time when it continues activity at its uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon Nuclear Center.
Analysts writing for 38 North said activities picked up in May at the site, with the arrival then departure of vehicles, equipment and personnel.