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Puppies Train for Landmine Clearance

A new litter of puppies, born in Cambodia, are being used as the first mine-clearing dogs in Southeast Asia. Cute as they are, these puppies are being prepared for a deadly serious purpose. They are being trained to sniff out the explosive commonly known as TNT (trinitrotoluene). Cambodia is littered with tons of unexploded munitions left over from decades of war. The Landmine Monitor report 2007 says that in Cambodia between 2006-2006 there were 61 fatalities, of which 12 were children, and further 389 casualties, of which 128 were children.

The puppies were bred from a pair of Belgian Shepherd dogs imported from Bosnia. They were chosen for breeding because of their eager-to-please temperaments and their good genetic history.

Uk Rotha: "The parents of these puppies are experienced mine-clearing dogs. Cambodian dogs are not looked after as well as foreign dogs- they normally run wild, so they are not good for breeding."

Traditionally landmines have been cleared here using metal detectors, but this method is slow. Heang Sambo, who has been clearing mines with dogs in Cambodia for ten years, says that dogs are more effective.

Heang Sambo: "The difference between a metal detector and a dog is that the dog only smells TNT, while the metal detector picks up the sound of anything metal, including rubbish. That's why a dog is a lot faster than a metal detector."

And according to Sambo, it's important that handlers and thier dogs maintain a good relationship.

Heang Sambo: "Good landmine-clearing dogs must listen closely to their handler. They must have a good relationship with their handler, because if they love him, they will do what they asked to do. Plus, they need a sensitive nose which comes from good breeding."

Ngoun Thy, the senior dog instructor at the CMAC says that its costly to import dogs into the country and encouraged local breeding programs.

Ngoun Thy: "Importing trained landmine-clearing dogs is very expensive. One dog costs over thirty thousand dollars, which is too expensive for a country like Cambodia. And because we have very experienced dog trainers, here it makes more sense to orgainise our own breeding programme."

Worldwide, land mine casualties have fallen in the past decade from about 26,000 a year to between 15,000 and 20,000, according to the United Nations in 2007. In 2005, more than 285 square miles were de-mined, the largest area cleared since modern de-mining began in the late 1980s, according to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia and Yemen accounted for nearly half the area, while nearly 54 square miles were cleared in Afghanistan, the campaign reported. Guatemala and Suriname have reported clearing all their known anti-personnel mines. After overtaking Cambodia in 2005, Colombia leads the world in victims of land mines and buried explosives, with 1,109 killed or mutilated in 2006, government figures show.

Cambodia signed the International Mine Ban Treaty on 3 December 1997, ratified the treaty on 28 July 1999 and the treaty entered into force on 1 January 2000.

Information for this report was provided by APTN.