The National Police and the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) met to discuss a cooperative project to train dogs to sniff out illegal drugs – as well as training police officers in animal handling skills to work with the dogs – to carry out anti-drug law enforcement operations.

The meeting was held on November 1 with deputy National Police chief and head of police counter-narcotics operations Mak Chito in attendance along with CMAC secretariat head Prak Somathy and other officials from their dog training programme.

He said CMAC had trained many dogs to sniff out ammunition or explosives for work related to demining and anti-terrorism security operations and, he noted, CMAC has even trained some dogs to detect Covid-19 infected patients.

Chito said that currently the National Police only has two dogs that can detect drugs for them and both of them are getting old.

“Our goal is to get CMAC to help with two things. Firstly, train the dogs to sniff-out many different kinds of drugs. Secondly, train our police officers on how to handle the dogs and utilize their abilities effectively,” Chito said.

He said it may take some time for the training to be completed because they want the dogs to be able to detect several different kinds of common illegal drugs.

“I think that any dogs we get from CMAC will be good because they are already accustomed to Cambodia’s weather already. Using dogs in anti-drug operations is helpful because – at the airport, for example – we sometimes cannot see the illegal drugs on an X-ray. But the dogs will know they are there because they have such an acute sense of smell sensitivity,” he said.

CMAC secretariat chief Prak Somathy – who oversees the dog training programme at CMAC – said they planned to provide dogs to the Anti-Drug Department as soon as they had some trained for that work.

Hang Pitou, administration office chief of the DTA Rehabilitation Drug Addiction Treatment Centre in Phnom Penh, said using dogs to sniff out drugs will help the anti-drug police catch more drug offenders if they are positioned at key places like the border checkpoints or the airport.

In August, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said drug crimes had dropped to a remarkable extent as anti-drug police continued their operations despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Praising the police and other relevant authorities for their commitment and willingness to combat drug-related crime, Sar Kheng said authorities have cracked down on 80 to 90 per cent of drugs offences since the pandemic began.

“We regard this as a success during the pandemic, though there do remain criminals who have taken advantage of certain situations during the pandemic to produce or import illegal drugs,” he said.

Separately, Cambodia is urging the other five Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries to improve anti-drug trafficking controls in their territories to prevent the emergence of new drugs with abuse potential that have not yet been registered with the UN convention.

The request came at the 11th Sub-Regional Action Plan Review Workshop on Drugs which was hosted by Cambodia on November 2 and attended by representatives of drug control institutions from the six GMS signatory states: Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, China and Thailand, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Meas Virith, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), told The Post on November 2 that the present drugs situation had changed a lot in recent years, especially attitude changes about producing synthetic drugs rather than natural or semi-synthetic drugs.

“As chairman of the workshop, I urged participation by everyone to improve the results of drug control work within the regional framework.

“The emergence of new drugs that are not yet registered in the UN Convention is a point that we have to pay attention to so we can crack down on these new drugs. We must ban them quickly or else we cannot punish people for trafficking them because there is no law against it. So, we have to find appropriate measures to prevent the new drugs from spreading from the production areas to the consumer markets,” he added.

At the workshop, Virith requested that UNODC continue to help facilitate and mobilise technical assistance in the form of equipment, funds and skills training in line with the increasing severity of the drugs problem in the region.

Virith said the workshop presented an opportunity for the Mekong countries to effectively strengthen and develop drug control cooperation in national, regional and global terms.

He commended the UNODC for its efforts to mobilise financial resources from donor countries to continue the anti-drug trafficking activities by the signatory countries.