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New hound joins mine battle

Smell hound Rambo stands outside the Phnom Penh International Airport with a handler from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre
Smell hound Rambo stands outside the Phnom Penh International Airport with a handler from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre yesterday after disembarking from a flight. PHOTO SUPPLIED

New hound joins mine battle

Cambodia's newest demining employee comes with an impressive resume, years of experience – and four legs.

Rambo touched down in Phnom Penh yesterday, then was driven to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) training facility in Kampong Chhnang province. He is the first of 18 trained “smell hounds” CMAC will receive through a donation from NGO Norwegian People’s Aid.

“We flew Rambo in first because of CMAC’s urgent need in our demining efforts,” CMAC director general Heng Ratana said. “The other 17 dogs will arrive within the next six months.”

At four years old, Rambo has already received training at a centre in Bosnia and spent the past two years sniffing out explosives in Senegal, Ratana said. He will receive another year of training at CMAC’s Kampong Chhnang facility.

When the 17 arrive, CMAC will have a total of 52 explosive-sniffing dogs, Ratana said.

Specialised dogs like Rambo cost about $36,000 each, making the total donation equivalent to more than $600,000.

CMAC’s explosive-sniffing dogs are all flown in from Sweden, Germany, Holland, Thailand and Bosnia, said Hang Rith, director of CMAC’s dog program. While their help is invaluable, other tools are necessary to completely clear areas of mines and bombs.

“We train the dogs only to sniff out the explosive substance – TNT, not the metal or wood,” Rith said. “Dogs and metal detectors will help speed up our mine-clearing efforts in Cambodia.”

Deaths from unexploded ordnances have dropped in recent years, with 22 last year, down from 43 in 2012, according to figures from the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority.

Despite the dip in tragedies, Rith said, there are still about 2,000 square kilometres of Cambodian land teeming with mines. According to the Cambodian government’s National Mine Action Strategy, the cost of clearing all mines from Cambodian soil by 2019 will total about $450 million.

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