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Sky-High Fuel Prices Hammer Mondolkiri

At his small wood-and-thatch home in Mondolkiri province, Nuon Vanna stared at his Korean-made motorcycle, which had gone neglected for days. The 41-year-old laborer from Lao Ka village said extra-high fuel prices made riding the thing prohibitive.

Prices in Modolkiri have reached 7,000 riel per kilogram, about 2,000 riel higher than in Phnom Penh. Many here blame it on a fuel monopoly in the province’s capital, and even roadside fuel vendors say they cannot lower it further.

When the fuel hit the already high price of 5,500 riel per week, he could still take his motorcycle to the woods and collect resin, he said. “But when the gasoline price became higher, I went …only once.”

The high fuel costs cut his income in half, he said, to about 12,000 riel, or $3 per trip to the forest. Now he goes on foot.

One seller in Lao Ka village, Khun Samnang, said the high prices were hurting her business, as potential customers like Nuon Vanna opted not to drive. Selling at 5,500 riel per liter, she would sell 60 liters of fuel a day, for a total of 330,000 riel, about $82.50. By last week, at 7,000 riel per liter, she was selling half that amount, earning a total 210,000 riel, about $52.50.

“When gasoline costs are higher, we have more difficulty to sell it,” she said. “My clients complain that gasoline is very expensive, and on the other hand they say they have much difficultly making money.”

Khun Samnang said she’d been importing fuel for the past two years from the only dealer in the province, a man named Leng Hour, who, other villagers say, seems to adjust the fuel price arbitrarily.

Leng Hour could not be reached for comment, and members of his staff in the provincial capital declined comment.

But residents here question the wisdom of having only one fuel distributor.

“I wonder, why does only one petroleum distributor operate his business here, and why don’t other businessmen come to distribute petroleum here?” asked Em Sopheak, coordinator of the Community Legal Education Center in Mondolkiri town.

The fuel is imported from Vietnam and distributed throughout the province’s districts, but the prices seem arbitrary, Em Sopheak said.

Mondolkiri Governor Lay Sokha told VOA Khmer he had never received a bribe from Leng Hour.

No company has ever built a petroleum station in the town, he said, and if it were not for Leng Hour, there would be no fuel to buy.

Meanwhile, the local company Tela was hoping to begin operating in the province in the next few months, Lay Sokha said, hoping to sell prices consistent with those in Phnom Penh.

Meanwhile, Hang Chuon Naron, secretary-general of the Ministry of Finance, said Monday the fuel prices in Cambodia are coming down, thanks to international market rates and government subsidies. The government paid an estimated $250 million to petroleum distributors so far this year, he said.

“We organize meetings with those petroleum companies every two weeks and ask them to bring down the petroleum price,” he said.