PHNOM PENH (AFP) - The Cambodian tourist town of Siem Reap has banned the dog meat trade, a victory for animal rights campaigners who describe the area as the "lynchpin" of an industry that slaughters millions of creatures each year.
Dog meat, a cheap source of protein, is eaten in several Asian countries, including Cambodia, although it is much more popular in neighbouring Vietnam.
But animal rights group Four Paws has identified Siem Reap province - home to the famed Angkor Wat temple complex - as a hub for the trade within the kingdom, where they say three million dogs are butchered annually.
Siem Reap authorities announced a ban late on Tuesday (July 7), with the provincial agricultural department saying the dog meat trade has descended into "anarchy" in recent years.
"It has caused the infection of rabies and other diseases from one region to another, which affects the public health," said the statement.
"The catching, buying, selling and slaughtering of dogs... will be punished severely."
The maximum penalty for dealing in dogs for slaughter as food is five years in prison, while fines range from 7 million riel (S$2,385) to 50 million riel.
How the ban will be enforced remains to be seen, as Cambodia has long struggled with lax policing.
However, Four Paws on Wednesday hailed the decision to take out Siem Reap as a "lynchpin for the Cambodian dog meat trade".
"We hope that Siem Reap will serve as a model for the rest of the country to follow suit," said veterinarian Katherine Polak.
Their investigation last year found that the northern province served as a gateway for the trade, with roving dog catchers nabbing animals and selling them to over 20 dog meat restaurants in the tourist city.
Thousands are also transported each month to different parts of the country, including the capital Phnom Penh where there are still more than 100 restaurants.
On Wednesday, a streetside vendor in the capital continued to advertise dog meat on his menu, hawking barbecue dishes from US$2.50 (S$3.50) to US$10 a kilogram.
Tourism to Cambodia has seized up due to the coronavirus pandemic. Siem Reap draws the bulk of the kingdom's six million tourists, nearly half from China.