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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

US consulate opens in Vietnam

Vietnamese queue for visas within hours of the consulate opening

The United States has opened a diplomatic mission in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, 24 years after it pulled out of the Vietnam war.

The new consulate has been built on the site of the old US embassy, where helicopters airlifted 2,000 Americans and Vietnamese from the roof as they fled advancing communist forces from the north on 30 April 1975, marking the end of the war.

United States diplomats from Hanoi and Washington attended Monday's ceremony, as well as former American serviceman, Chuck Hagel, who was nearly killed in action in Vietnam 30 years ago and is now a republican senator.

Within hours of the opening, scores of Vietnamese hoping to obtain visas to visit their families in the US queued up outside the building.

In the past, Vietnamese had to go to Bangkok, Thailand, to make most visa applications.

Reconciliation

The US and Vietnamese authorities exchanged ambassadors in 1996, a year after they had normalised relations.


[ image: A memorial to the war dead in Ho Chi Minh]
A memorial to the war dead in Ho Chi Minh
Demolition of the old embassy began in June 1998 and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright laid the first brick of the $3.5m consulate soon after.

The building, which will house 20 US and more than 150 Vietnamese staff, features a computerised system designed to cut waiting time for visa applicants.

The opening of the consulate is a symbolic step in US-Vietnamese relations.

The US Ambassador for Hanoi and former prisoner-of-war, Pete Peterson, said: "I personally see this as another event in a bright future."

Bilateral trade

Reconciliation between the former enemies has reached new heights with a bilateral trade accord normalising economic relations in the pipeline.

The two sides expect to formally sign the agreement during the summit by leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum countries on 12 September in Auckland, New Zealand.



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