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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - High-tech US embassy set to open

High-tech US embassy set to open

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The new US embassy on Street 96 near Wat Phnom. Former US Ambassador Charles A Ray claims credit for the survival of the tree, which architects wanted removed.

The United States Embassy in Phnom Penh is set to check out of its present surroundings

on Street 228 this month and move to a new $60 million, state-of-the-art complex

near Wat Phnom.

According to US Embassy public affairs officer John J Daigle, the new embassy is

expected to be operational by December 12 and is a welcome change from the current

compound.

"Moving into a very high tech, multimillion-dollar building is a must-have considering

what we are working in at the moment," Daigle said. "Our current premises

are in fact several leased properties joined together. We have a gas station and

a hotel included in what we are calling an embassy."

Daigle said that the current embassy employs 570 people, but they cannot all be accommodated

in the existing building, whereas15 extra staff we're hired to help maintain the

new facility due to the size of the building and the complexity of the new utility

systems.

"We even recycle all waste water for lawn irrigation" Daigle said.

US officials have heralded the new site as a sign of the deepening diplomatic relations

between the US and Cambodia, and claim it marks a more stable relationship between

the two countries.

"The move is a symbolic renewal of our commitment to Cambodia," Daigle

said.

A previous US Embassy was evacuated on April 12, 1975, just days before the Khmer

Rouge took Phnom Penh. A 16-year break in relations between Cambodia and the US followed.

Formal ties were re-established on November 11, 1991, with the opening of a US mission

in Phnom Penh headed by Charles H Twining. Full diplomatic relations resumed two

years later.

The new 6.2-hectare site will accommodate an 8,000 square meter embassy building,

fronting on to Street 96. It occupies the site of a sports club originally built

by the French Protectorate in 1929 as the Cercle Sportif. There was criticism in

2003 when the decision to demolish the building was announced. Unesco described it

as an important part of Phnom Penh's urban heritage.

US officials claim the compound will be one of the most secure US embassies yet built.

It comes with a US$60 million price tag, a snip compared to other US embassy projects

such as the $434-million embassy in Beijing, and the proposed $1.3-billion project

in Baghdad.

"The general contractor is the US company Zachary construction, which won the

contract through a competitive bid process," Daigle said.

"Various sub-contractors were used during the building process, including four

local companies. In total $18 million of the $60 million was spent locally."

The official opening ceremony is January 17. The event is scheduled to include a

full tour of the building and a procession of guests and embassy staff to pay respects

at nearby Wat Phnom. Former US ambassadors and US celebrities such as Cambodian citizen

Angelina Jolie, and City of Ghosts director Matt Dillon have been invited to attend.

Former US Ambassador Charles A Ray, now diplomat-in-residence at the University of

Houston, said the move is significant as it finally provides personnel with a secure

and attractive place in which to work.

Ray also laid claim to a small, but significant, role in the aesthetics of the new

facility.

"You will note that there is a stately old tree which architects wanted removed,"

he said. "Knowing Cambodian reverence for trees, I used my authority as ambassador

to block them. As you look at it while driving or walking up to the entrance, you

will agree it was the right thing to do."

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