Deminers, Dogs Contracted to Sniff Out Ordnance in Israel

Twenty-three Cambodian deminers and 12 mine detection dogs have been contracted to work in Israel for the first time and are heading to the Middle East within the next week, representatives of the two countries’ demining agencies said on Monday.

The group, from the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), was hired by an Israeli company for a four-month job during which the Cambodians will use the dogs to help find mines with little-to-no metal parts buried across about 25 hectares of Israeli desert, CMAC Director-General Heng Ratana said.

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CMAC deminers and their dogs take a break in the shade before another trip into a minefield in Battambang province’s Bavel district last year. (Enric Catala)

“The mine detector only finds metal substances and the dog looks for explosive substances—gunpowder. Therefore, in Israel, apart from dogs, nothing can do this work,” Mr. Ratana said.

Three Cambodian teams with mine-detecting dogs will search for 1960s-era plastic anti-personnel mines that were carried by floods from minefields near the Israeli-Jordanian border to the Negev desert in central Israel, said Michael Heiman, head of technology and standards at the Israeli National Mine Action Authority (INMAA).

“We’re bringing the dogs because we don’t have any,” said Mr. Heiman, who is overseeing the demining project.

He said CMAC came highly recommended by demining industry experts.

“Basically, I think they are qualified deminers, but they will not serve as deminers,” he said.

The CMAC team would be working in a “low-risk” area, defined by the authority as one in which they expected to find fewer than 1 mine per 1,000 square meters, he said.

Back at home, however, Cambodia is projected to miss a 2025 deadline to clear all the country’s mines because it has been spending too much money and resources on land that has little or no mines, according to a report released last year by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining.

The government has said CMAC needs more funding and time to complete domestic demining operations. CMAC has been dogged by allegations of corruption in the past.

Mr. Ratana of CMAC said the team being sent to Israel, which amounts to a fraction of the organization’s nearly 200 deminers and more than 70 dogs, would not affect its operational capacity at home.

“For the force that we will send out for the operation, this is a force that can be shared. They can work in Cambodia, as well as abroad,” he said.

“This force doesn’t go for a long time. They go for both the operation and learning,” he added.

Mr. Heiman said the 23-member Cambodian contingent would undergo three weeks of training upon arriving in Israel to learn how to detect the type of mines they will be searching for there.

“They are first training for a few weeks on these specific mines,” he said, adding that they would have to pass an accreditation test given by the INMAA.

Both Mr. Ratana and Mr. Heiman said they didn’t know how much CMAC was being paid for their work in Israel.

The company contracted by INMAA, Safeland, which subcontracted CMAC, did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday.

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