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South Korea in rare offer of aid to North for foot-and-mouth outbreak

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea has offered North Korea help with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in pigs, which would be the first government-level humanitarian help since 2010 and comes as ties between the rivals have been warming.

North Korea's Ministry of Agriculture said in state news agency report on Saturday at least 3,200 pigs had been infected with foot-and-mouth and some had died but most were slaughtered.

The outbreak, which began on January 8, had caused economic losses and was spreading because of shortages of vaccines, diagnostic means and disinfectants, the news agency said.

South Korea's Agriculture Ministry said it wanted to help the North contain the spread.

"The government has suggested a practical-level meeting to discuss and offer aid today as it understands that this requires urgent measures," the ministry said in a statement.

Ties between the two Koreas are often fraught but in recent days hundreds of South Koreans have crossed into the North to be reunited with family members not seen since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The reunions were held despite North Korean anger over joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, which began on Monday. Last year, the exercises triggered weeks of North Korean threats of war.

Foot-and-mouth usually affects cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. It rarely infects humans.

South Korea was forced to cull 10 percent of its cattle and hogs in 2010-2011 after an outbreak that cost billions of dollars to contain. North Korea suffered an outbreak in 2011.

South Korea does not import any meat from the North but it has stepped up disinfection of workers in the Kaesong industrial complex jointly run with North Korea, as well as of the people crossing the border for family reunions.

(Reporting by Meeyoung Cho and Ju-min Park; Editing By Robert Birsel)

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