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Chavez orders Smurfit seizure

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez has urged his agriculture minister to speed up the government takeover of land owned by Ireland's Smurfit Kappa.

In 2009, Chavez ordered the seizure of a eucalyptus tree farm owned by Smurfit Kappa, a major cardboard packaging company, vowing to clear the trees and use the land for crops. He said the plantation and its water-hungry trees were drying out local rivers.

"We have to take the last square metre of land from Smurfit . . . Let's move more quickly, that's an order," Chavez said in a telephone call to state TV where he spoke with Agriculture Minister Juan Carlos Loyo.

It was not immediately clear if Chavez's comments suggested he planned to seize more land belonging to Smurfit Kappa or accelerate the takeover of the tree farm.

The land seizure ordered two years ago involved 3,700 acres, which analysts said represented a small part of the company's holdings. Smurfit still owns 29,650 acres.

Chavez has nationalised large swathes of Venezuela's economy, including much of its vital oil sector.

He has sought to double the amount of land under cultivation in the South American country and has taken over big farms deemed idle and given them to small farmers in an effort to combat poverty in the countryside.