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Thailand Struggles to Cope with Rising Oil Price

BANGKOK (August 24) : Thailand, struggling to cope with rising oil prices, has clamped down on motorists smuggling cheaper petrol from neighbouring Malaysia, customs officials said on Wednesday.

They said checkpoints on the Thai-Malaysian border been taking action since last week against vehicles entering Thailand from Malaysia with full tanks of petrol.

"The instruction is customs officials would siphon off petrol from vehicles coming in from Malaysia with more than half of their tank filled," an official said.

He said Thai officials would also confiscate petrol-filled containers carried in vehicles coming from Malaysia.

Thai officials said the retail price of cheaper, government-subsidised petrol in Malaysia was slightly over half the price paid by Thai motorists.

Petroleum industry sources said on Wednesday that despite the restriction on land border oil smuggling, many Thai fishing trawlers continued to exploit the wide price gap between the two countries by carrying cheaper diesel oil from Malaysia to Thai ports.

The Land Transport Management Committee (LTMC) says Thailand relies heavily on imports to meet about 97 percent of its petroleum product demand.

Thailand last year spent about $4.3 billion importing crude oil and refined petroleum products, up from $3.2 billion in 1998.

The petrol pump price of premium gasoline in Bangkok surged to 17.09 baht (42 US cents) per litre this week from 11.59 baht at the start of 2000.

The government of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai has faced growing calls for financial assistance from diverse economic groups including truck drivers, farmers, and fishing trawler operators hit by rising oil prices.

About 1,000 inter-provincial cargo trucks have since Tuesday threatened to block suburban highways around Bangkok to put pressure on Chuan to cut local oil taxes.

Chuan's cabinet on Tuesday turned down calls for lower oil taxes but promised to find other ways to ease the pain from the oil price surge.

On Tuesday, Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said net oil importing countries should unite in signalling their concern about surging oil prices, which he said threatened economic recovery in Asia.

"It would be helpful to build a world public opinion that can be relayed to countries now reviewing oil prices, making them aware of the impact," Surin told reporters.

LTMC on Tuesday called on Thais to adopt energy-saving measures, including proposals for Bangkok residents to avoid commuting in the city during rush hours, and calls for cabinet ministers and politicians to travel in smaller police-escorted car convoys.

The agency said Thais could reduce energy squandering road trips by communicating more on the phone, fax, and e-mail -Reuters

-- (, August 24, 2000

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