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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Nov. 5, 2002 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Spain is expanding its aid programs to North Pacific nations, Ambassador Tomas Rodriguez-Pantoja Marquez told Marshall Islands President Kessai Note.

The main focus of this new aid program is the education and cultural field, the ambassador said.

The Marshall Islands has had diplomatic relations with Spain, a former colonizer of the Micronesian region, since 1991. But till now the ties had largely been ceremonial, with little in the way of development assistance.

The ambassador, who is based in Manila and was visiting Majuro, said that the Philippines was the first country in Asia to receive Spanish aid. This was mainly because of its large Hispanic population, and its long links with Spain.

"Now the programs are open to the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia," he said.

What are now Guam, the Northern Marianas, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau were ruled by the Spanish until 1898. The Spanish also had early contact with the Marshall Islands.

A 5 million Euros program, called "common future," is based on historical ties but is aimed at looking to the future. It is focused on teachers and researchers, he said.

Funding is open to both governments and non-governmental organizations, he said. Educational scholarships are also now available to these Pacific countries.

"Make us aware of your priorities," he said to Note. "We’d like to help you."

Spain explored and colonized the Micronesian islands from the 1500s until the late 1800s.

European contact with many of the North Pacific Islands had begun with the first Spanish ships exploring across the Pacific.

It developed with the Spanish galleon trade between Mexico and Manila.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

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