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Minister: Gov't 'Unable' to Lower Fuel Costs

Cambodia's government cannot immediately bring down the high costs of fuel, despite calls from the opposition and threatened mass demonstrations, a senior official said Thursday.

In an exclusive interview with VOA Khmer, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said Thursday the government was "unable to decrease the price of gasoline."

Opposition calls for mass demonstrations over the rising price of fuel was a "political trick," he said, adding that the government had used "silent" tactics like duty reduction and arrests of smugglers to allay some of the price rise.

Fuel prices have tripled in Cambodia this year, putting a heavy squeeze on some of the country's poorest. A liter of gas in Phnom Penh cost 4,350 riel Thursday, as the international price of oil neared $100 a barrel.

"We're helping to curb the price of gas by means of tax reduction," Keat Chhon said. "In September alone, we took a loss of $15 million. And for the past nine months, the losses reached $125 million."

In another effort to keep prices low, the government had taken measures to stop the transport of fuel by smugglers, Keat Chhon said, "and we're not going to show them any mercy."

Human Rights Party Vice President Keo Remy said Thursday fuel prices in Laos were lower than Cambodia and repeated claims that inept governance was to blame.

The Human Rights and Norodom Ranariddh parties have each called on the government to bring down the cost of fuel or suffer mass demonstrations.