On Friday, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) will celebrate the heroism of mine detection dogs that help speed up the painstaking task and ease the difficulties faced by demining agents.
CMAC director-general Heng Ratana told The Post on Thursday that the organisation will showcase the dogs’ capabilities and contribution to society and their cooperation with deminers at CMAC’s head office in Phnom Penh.
He said mine detection dogs helped hasten CMAC’s work and reduce the difficulties faced by the human task force in searching for mines. CMAC mine agents use metal detection devices, Ratana said, which is a slow process and has many drawbacks.
“The dogs help us tremendously. They make the process faster and have significantly contributed to our mine clearance operations. They make a very important contribution to society,” he said.
Ratana said CMAC has 132 dogs, 70 of which currently help with mine clearance operations. The remaining dogs are in training at CMAC’s office in Kampong Chhnang province. He said CMAC has bred over 100 dogs in the last three years.
“Our mine detection dogs have been sent to mine clearing operations in Israel, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and countries in eastern Europe,” Ratana said.
He said metal detection equipment only provides a signal when metal is detected, but the dogs can sniff out the odour of explosives and other chemicals leaking from mines and they can also find mines with little or no metal content.
Furthermore, Ratana said, they can work in situations where large amounts of metal debris prevent the use of standard metal detectors.
CMAC secretariat chief Prak Somathy said dogs that had died were of old age or suffered illnesses and not during missions in the search for mines.
For example, an eight-year-old dog named Dia died from breast cancer on May 25 after four years of service. However, last year she delivered 10 puppies, which will be trained to detect unexploded ordnance (UXO).
CMAC director-general Ratana said: “We regret losing Dia because she was very smart.
“In general, mine detection dogs serve for only eight years. When they are born, we train them for two- to two-and-a-half years before introducing them into mine clearance operations. After six years of fieldwork, we retire them,” he said.
Somathy told The Post on Thursday that when a dog dies, CMAC arranges funerals for them just as for people, and their carcasses are buried at the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap or at CMAC offices in Kampong Chhnang province.
He said CMAC currently has 12 female dogs, with each one able to give birth to about 10 puppies. Once the puppies are a week old, CMAC officers start to train them, Somathy said.
Since 1992, CMAC and some 10 other organisations have cleared landmines and other UXO from 1,823sq km (704sqm) and liberated some 4,320 families from the threat posed by landmines.
Countries to have donated aid to clear landmines included Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, the EU, Germany, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the US and the UK.
CMAC said from January 1 to April 4, 44 people were disabled or killed by landmines in Cambodia, with victims hailing from Battambang, Oddar Meanchey, Ratanakkiri, Tbong Khmum and other provinces.