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By Yin Soeum

Written by: Staff

PHNOM PENH, Apr 8 (Reuters) Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gave 600 million dollars in loans and aid to Cambodia today after meeting Prime Minister Hun Sen, an increasingly close friend in a region where Beijing is looking for strategic alliances.

Half of the money, which equals the amount of aid Cambodia receives annually from international donors, will fund a hydro-electric plant, one of Hun Sen's spokesmen said.

Around 200 million dollar will pay for two major bridges across the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and the rest will go on projects such as a new Council of Ministers building, replacing the dilapidated concrete edifice now serving as Cambodia's seat of government.

''It opens a new chapter in the Cambodian-Chinese relationship,'' Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters after Wen's arrival in Phnom Penh. ''After this we believe the Chinese will bring more investment and aid to Cambodia for development.'' Even though Hun Sen has spent much of his military and political life fighting Pol Pot's Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge, analysts say he has worked hard in recent years to build Chinese ties as a counterweight to Vietnam, which lies between them.

The improved relationship also works well for Beijing.

Besides millions of dollars in aid in recent years, China gave the impoverished nation six naval patrol boats in September -- ostensibly to help combat drug and human trafficking.

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