Border Reopening Sends Gas Prices Dropping

Gas prices in the northwest, which skyrocketed while the Thai border was shut, are dropping as smugglers resume illegal trading across the border.

While the border was closed following the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh, travel be­tween the two countries ground to a halt, both for legal and illegal purposes.

Thailand first closed off border access to Cambodians after the riots. In retaliation, Cambodia barred Thais from entering the country on March 5.

Since border traffic reopened on March 21, plastic containers filled with gasoline have been arriving nightly at crossings in Bat­tam­bang and Banteay Mean­chey prov­inces and Pailin municipality, causing gas to approach the pre-closure price of about 1,000 riel ($0.25). This week, prices hovered around 1,500 riel ($0.38) per liter. At its highest point, gas reached 2,300 riel ($0.58) per liter.

“I’m happy to have cheaper gasoline. I can make money again. During the border closure, it was too expensive,” said Thav Vy, a taxi driver who works in Phnom Penh and Battambang.

Um Chhoun, a farmer who cultivates rice fields and forests in Battambang, said the high price of gas caused him to raise the rates he charges landowners for his services. Now, he said, he can at least recoup fuel expenses in one day of work.

Gas prices near the Thai border have traditionally been cheaper than in Phnom Penh because the market is flooded with smuggled Thai gasoline. Although smuggling gas from Thailand is illegal, it seems impossible to stop, according to police officials.

“It is hard to crack down on them because there are many roads along the border and smuggling can be done many ways during the dry season,” said Battambang Police Chief Heng Chantha.

Although the price of gas is returning to normal, landowners and farmers are still reeling from the border closure. Property sales have yet to rebound on fears and rumors that Thai-Cambodian relations may worsen once again.

Despite slashing the price of her Poipet property after the closure, Sok Sav has yet to receive any offers. “I really need the money to cure my husband who is sick,” she said.

If she can’t sell the property in a few months, she is unsure how to pay for her husband’s medical expenses.

Last year’s drought and subsequent flooding, which severely damaged the 2002 rice crop, have adding to real estate woes in the northwest.

“I call people to buy my rice field but no one needs it,” said Chhou Ny, a farmer in the Thmar Koul district of Battambang.

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