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Benin Clamps Down on Illegal Fuel Sales

After more than 70 people died in a fuel tanker explosion in Benin last week, the government is announcing a clamp down on illegal fuel sales. Informal fuel trading sustains thousands of Beninois.

Benin's Minister of Commerce Issifou Moudjaidou Soumanou announced late Tuesday that he would no longer tolerate the illegal sale of fuel.

This comes within a week of the tanker explosion, which killed more than 70 in the northern town of Porga. Local residents had started siphoning fuel from a tanker truck, which had overturned en route from the Malian capital, Bamako, to Benin's commercial capital, Cotonou.

In Benin, more than 200 people have died in over 700 fuel fires in the past two years. Minister Soumanou said this is a serious and continuing problem and must be stopped.

Soumanou said he would give the issue serious attention. He said major traffickers were known to authorities and have been given till June 15 to halt all activities.

Cotonou-based journalist Gerard Guedegbe says this decision is likely to impact thousands of Beninois.

"It is a big decision, because this illegal trade of fuel is nourishing thousands of families here," he said. "There are many people who think the government will not succeed, because past governments tried and always failed."

Guedegbe says the fuel dealers are willing to quit their trade, provided the government finds them another form of income.

"They say they are ready to stop the trade and let the government provide them with new jobs, because they have been doing this for years and some have built up their lives around this," he added. "They say if you want us to drop this work, please find us something else to do."

Accountant Dima Yessoufou closely follows informal fuel trafficking, which, he says, is a lucrative sector in Benin. He believes the government will have a tough time cracking down on the trade.

He says he seriously doubts the government will succeed in their attempts to stop trafficking. He says they claim to have details on all the major traffickers, but that this is impossible, and, he adds, the little traffickers are dangerous too.

Yessoufou is also concerned that a successful crackdown would have a serious impact on the economy.

He says that if people are forced to buy their fuel at regular fuel stations it will be too expensive for them. He adds that this will affect taxis and other activities and, he says, the population may not take this very well.

Yessoufou says Benin's borders are very porous and they need to be sealed if the campaign is to have any success.