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Korea to open embassy in Madagascar

South Korea is expected to open an embassy in Madagascar as early as next month, officials said Sunday, as part of Seoul’s move to expand cooperation with the resources-rich continent.

The Foreign Ministry has been gearing up for the launch since it secured approval from the southeastern island country last year. An inaugural ceremony might take place in Antananarivo in early July, officials said.

The two sides established diplomatic relations in 1962 but Seoul’s mission in South Africa had been overseeing Madagascar affairs until it dispatched acting ambassador Kim Pil-woo late last year.

The bilateral ties have weathered a series of ups and downs since a socialist regime took power in Madagascar and the relationship was severed in 1972. The vacuum lasted more than two decades until a 1983 restoration, however, the partnership faced another setback following a 2009 coup.

The African state forged diplomatic ties with North Korea in 1972, but Pyongyang pulled out its embassy from there in 2002.

In recent years, Seoul has been pursuing more practical partnerships with Madagascar, especially following a presidential election there in late 2013, which paved the way to court back foreign investments and economic assistance that had dried up after the coup.

Two-way trade volume neared $200 million in 2015, with South Korean exports topping $24 million, according to data by the Korea International Trade Association. South Korea chiefly exports items such as diesel, cars and synthetic resins and brings in minerals like nickel, eel, farm crops and agro-fishery products.

President Park Geun-hye has been stepping up efforts to bolster cooperation with African countries, many of which have decades-long relations with North Korea, vast natural resources deposits and potential for infrastructure development. She went on a two-week tour to Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya late last month.

By Shin Hyon-hee (