North Korea might have slaughtered thousands of chickens last month after a suspected outbreak of bird flu at a chicken factory in Pyongyang, sources close to North Korean officials in China said Tuesday.
The Unification Ministry said the government is not able to confirm the outbreak of the avian influenza.
But a trader in Seoul indefinitely delayed its plan to sell North Korean chicken in South Korea.
``The government is not able to confirm it,’’ a high-ranking ministry official told reporters. ``We can only say that the North’s media began to report the necessity of anti-epidemic measures March 4.’’
North Korea's state media has recently stressed campaigns against the outbreak of bird flu and set up quarantines at airports, sea ports and border areas, while categorically assuring that the country is completely free from the epidemic.
If confirmed, it would be the first time that bird flu, which had wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia and China, hit North Korea.
After receiving the news of the unconfirmed outbreak, Porky Trading Korea, the firm in Seoul, asked its North Korean counterparts last weekend to delay shipping the chickens, the ministry official said.
``I heard from Porky Trading Korea officials that the North denied the outbreak of the disease and promised to check whether the disease did really spread in Pyongyang,’’ the official said.
The trader was ready to send a ship to the North Korean port of Nampo to ship 40 tons of North Korean chicken. The shipment was scheduled to arrive in the South Korean port of Inchon on Thursday. The company had planned to buy 2,000 tons of North Korean chicken this year.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Seoul said the reported outbreak of bird influenza will not have impact on South Korea because no North Korean chicken or duck have been bought by South Korea.
South Korea maintains a ban on poultry imports from Asian countries hit by the bird flu outbreak.
Sources in China said the contagious disease occurred in Pyongyang’s Hadang factory, which is believed to be the largest chicken factory in North Korea.
They said North Koreans might have bought and eaten chickens killed of the disease. ``I heard a rumor that in North Korea some people dug up chickens slaughtered a month ago and sold them in markets in Pyongyang,’’ a source said. ``They think it’s not a problem to eat it because they are not aware of the risk of the disease.’’
The Hadang factory is one of the five major facilities that breed and process chickens in Pyongyang, which were constructed in December 2002, the Unification Ministry said.