Ukraine Leader Orders Top Vet Sacked Over Bird Flu

NEKRASOVKA, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko, angry over delays in reporting a virulent strain of bird flu, ordered the dismissal on Monday of Ukraine's top veterinarian officer.

Residents of Nekrasovka village on the Crimean peninsula, south of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, surround Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, Monday, Dec. 5, 2005

"In the early stages, the local and central veterinary services proved unable to cope. As a result of this trip I am ordering the dismissal of the chief veterinarian ...," Yushchenko told reporters in one of the affected villages.

"What happened in these villages is clearly a professional error of the veterinary service and it must accept responsibility."

Yushchenko also said he was asking the local government in the Crimea peninsula, an autonomous region jutting out into the Black Sea, to dismiss its top veterinary official.

Ukrainian troops were rounding up and destroying domestic fowl in five villages in the Crimea peninsula after experts detected bird flu, but residents said birds had been dying since September with officials taking no action.

Chief veterinarian Petro Verbytsky, speaking at the weekend, said the strain was unlikely to harm humans, but samples have been sent to Britain for further tests. The deadly H5N1 strain has been found in neighbouring Romania and Russsia.

The H5N1 strain is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia where it has killed almost 70 people.

Yushchenko imposed emergency measures in the villages at the weekend, posting Interior Ministry troops at 3-km (two mile) exclusion zones while the cull proceeded. Further 10-km monitoring zones were imposed around affected areas.

"Today, the issue is totally under control. All the birds are being destroyed and by Dec. 12 all residents of these villages will be vaccinated," the president said in his latest comments. "It can therefore be said that Ukraine dealt with the problem in a very organised fashion."

Source: Reuters