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Spain set to strengthen ties with new embassy

SPAIN intends to open an embassy in Phnom Penh by July next year, Mariano Alonso-Burin, the country’s special envoy to Cambodia, said Monday.

“We have two main aims here: help develop Cambodia and strengthen ties with the legitimate government here,” he said, adding that he would be formally accredited as ambassador by the King of Spain when the embassy was established.

Spain’s official diplomatic presence was withdrawn by the early 1970s, he said, leaving it up to its embassy in Thailand to extend its services to the Kingdom.

“Three years ago through our Asia Plan, we decided to improve our presence in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said Cambodia welcomed the move, adding that it would “improve the diplomatic activity between the two countries”.

Alonso-Burin said there was “budding trade” between Spain and Cambodia, pointing to garment exports and approximately 20,000 tourist visits from Spain each year.

Exports to Spain from the Kingdom totalled US$120 million, and some $20 million in goods was shipped the other way in 2008, according to Cambodian government statistics.

Alonso-Burin said that Cambodia has plenty of room to grow, especially through its rich natural resources, adding: “Spain will never have a very large embassy here, but there will be large economic cooperation and aid programmes,” mainly targeting infrastructure development and human resources.

Arriving in May from his previous posting as ambassador to Canada, Alonso-Burin set up temporary shop in the Hotel Cambodiana to work towards establishing official representation.

“In the first three months of 2010, I hope to be able to sign an agreement whereby we will enhance development projects, and we will then proceed towards opening the official embassy,” he said.

Budgeting for the location and staff awaits approval in Spain, he said, adding that after the green light is given, plans will be firmed up for an anticipated July 2010 launch.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE

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