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News on Burma - 7/12/07

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Food aid to refugees faces cuts 2.. Regime asks Asean journalists to help counter negative reporting 3.. China supplies military trucks to Burma 4.. UN:
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2007
      1. Food aid to refugees faces cuts
      2. Regime asks Asean journalists to help counter “negative” reporting
      3. China supplies military trucks to Burma
      4. UN: Impose Burma arms embargo, end child soldier use
      5. Burma’s ‘Fire’ and ‘Water’ foreign policy stymies diplomacy
      6. Burma’s junta warned of growing anger
      7. Burmese Army orders destruction of Indo
      8. Rumors of Burmese military head facing psychological problems
      9. Sunflowers—Than Shwe’s latest Yadaya?
      10. Arakanese and Burma troops clash on western border
      11. UWSA clashes with government troops
      12. Myanmar recruits children for its military

      Food aid to refugees faces cuts
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      A humanitarian agency working on the Thai-Burma border has been forced to make cuts in food provisions to Burmese refugees because of funding shortfalls.

      The Thailand Burma Border Consortium has been providing food aid to over 150,000 refugees in ten camps along the Thai-Burma border for around 20 years. But now funding shortfalls and increasing numbers of new arrivals have meant that the group has been forced to cut back its provisions.

      In particular, supplies of fish paste and chilli, staple ingredients in Burmese cooking, are to be cut by half.

      Shelly Townsend from TBBC said that a number of factors had led to the funding shortfall. “We’ve been affected by the exchange rate – the Thai baht is still very strong, we’ve continued to get new arrivals and commodity prices are increasing,” she said.

      The strength of the baht against the US dollar has meant that the group is losing about 7 percent, around 80 million baht, of its budget from foreign funders.

      Saw Ni, a Burmese refugee in Thailand, said he was worried about the shortages. “That’s going to hurt us if they cut down on the supplies. We can’t even go out of the camps to get things for ourselves,” he said.

      Another refugee, Ma Pearl, was also concerned by the cutbacks. “Cutting down on these supplies will leave us with a food shortage problem, since we are living inside the refugee camps and we can’t go out and earn money for ourselves, she said. “Fish paste is our main source of protein.”

      Ms Townsend said that TBBC is concerned about the possible need for further cuts and the problems they could cause for refugees. “If we have to make further cuts, the concern is how that might impact on their health,” she said.

      “The other area of concern is that if we are unable to provide for their basic needs, more people will be tempted to go outside of camp to try and find work to support themselves and therefore they run the risk of being arrested because they’re outside of the camps.”

      Regime asks Asean journalists to help counter “negative” reporting - Violet Cho
      Irrawaddy: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      Burma’s Information Minister, Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, has appealed to journalists in neighboring countries to help counter negative news about events in his country.

      The state-run daily, The New Light of Myanmar, reported on Wednesday that Kyaw Hsan had claimed at an Asean sub-committee meeting that “some powerful nations are misusing media as a weapon to interfere in the internal affairs of small nations.”

      The information minister charged that the foreign media had exaggerated the events of August and September, which he described as “trivial.” Their coverage of the demonstrations had damaged Burma’s image, he complained—urging journalists from Asean countries to cooperate in disseminating truthful and constructive information about Burma, the newspaper said.

      Kyaw Hsan was speaking to a meeting in Naypyidaw of an information sub-committee of Asean’s committee on culture and information.

      Foreign press coverage of recent events in Burma also came under fire at a briefing in Naypyidaw by police chief Brig-Gen Khin Yi. He singled out the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, saying it was “the most notorious foreign broadcasting station airing fabricated news about Myanmar [Burma].”

      Khin Yi slammed DVB two days before the TV and radio station was rewarded by two French-based organizations for its coverage of the September demonstrations. Describing DVB as “one of the most reliable sources of news during the crisis,” Reporters without Borders and the Fondation de France awarded the station their media prize.

      In Burma, meanwhile, two Rangoon weeklies were recently ordered to suspend publication temporarily after they carried pictures of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the text of the statement she issued through UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Snap Shot and News Watch were each ordered by the military government’s censorship board to suspend one week’s issue.

      China supplies military trucks to Burma - Myo Gyi
      Mizzima News: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      Several military trucks are believed to have been supplied to the Burmese junta by China. They were seen arriving on the Sino-Burmese border town of Ruili this morning, a local eyewitness said.

      The light weight medium FAW trucks, manufactured by Chinese owned Tongfeng Company, were seen lining up at Ruili town, a Burmese who works at the car servicing centre told Mizzima.

      “The trucks arrived this morning. They are light weight and all of them are of the same design. Since the trucks were dirty, they sent it to us for car wash,” the local said.

      Another Burmese businessman at Kyegaung town, said the trucks, which are to be sent to the Burmese Amy as the first batch through the Muse-Kyegaung Road, are currently parked in front of the Kyegaung Customs office. “Yes the trucks are now parked in front of the customs office. There are more than 200 trucks lined up,” the businessman told Mizzima.

      A source close to the Chinese authorities told Mizzima that about 400 military trucks will be sent to Burma as the first batch and more are expected to be sent later.

      He also added that the Chinese authorities in early November sent six rocket carriers trucks through the Kyegaung-Muse Road.

      Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border said, “China has been supplying military trucks regularly. But it has been quite sometime now that they had stopped supplying. But it is again resumed supply.”

      “It is actually hampering China’s image, because it is currently facing a lot of condemnation for supplying the Burmese junta with military hardware. But since China chose to continue supplying amidst mounting pressure, may be it wants to show that it is supporting the Burmese junta openly,” added Aung Kyaw Zaw.

      UN: Impose Burma arms embargo, end child soldier use
      Human Rights Watch: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      The United Nations Security Council should impose an arms embargo on Burma in response to the Burmese military government’s continuing recruitment of children for its national army, Human Rights Watch said today.

      Tomorrow, the Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict will meet to consider a report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that has found “grave violations” against children in Burma, including patterns of underage military recruitment.

      The UN secretary-general has issued five reports since 2002 citing Burma’s national army, the Tatmadaw, for violating international law prohibiting the use of child soldiers. The reports have also cited several non-state armed groups in Burma for recruiting children, including armed opposition groups.

      “Burma’s army has recruited thousands of children to fill its ranks,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council needs to show Burma’s generals that they cannot get away with such horrendous practices.”

      The Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict must now consider what action the Security Council should take in response to the secretary-general’s new report on violations in Burma. In past resolutions on children and armed conflict, the Security Council has stated that it will consider targeted measures including embargoes on arms and other military assistance in cases where governments and armed groups fail to end their use of child soldiers.

      In a report released in October, Human Rights Watch documented how children as young as 10 are recruited by force into Burma’s army. At recruitment centers, officers falsify documents to register new recruits as age 18, even if they are clearly underage. Former soldiers reported that in many training camps, children made up more than 30 percent of new recruits.

      After putting children through military training, the Burmese army uses them in combat against ethnic armed opposition groups, and sometimes to participate in human rights abuses against civilians. Children who try to escape are typically beaten, re-recruited, or imprisoned.

      The army’s forced recruitment is designed to fill personnel shortages as a result of both increased desertion rates and army expansion. This expansion includes new units established to utilize arms purchased from China, India, Russia, and Ukraine.

      Under Burma’s national law, the recruitment of anyone below age 18 is prohibited. The recruitment and use of child soldiers below the age of 15 is considered a war crime under international law.

      In 2004, the military government, known as the State Peace and Development Council, established a high-level committee to prevent the recruitment of underage soldiers. Human Rights Watch’s investigation found that the committee had taken little action to end child recruitment, and instead repeatedly denied outside reports of child soldier use by government forces. There is no independent oversight of this committee, nor is there monitoring of recruitment centers or access to military bases throughout Burma’s hinterland, where many child soldiers are deployed.

      “The Security Council should not be fooled by Burma’s repeated promises to address the army’s use of child soldiers,” said Becker. “Nothing short of an arms embargo is likely to make Burma’s military government end all recruitment and use of children.”

      Non-state armed groups in Burma also use child soldiers, though practices vary widely. Some groups actively recruit and use children in armed conflict, while others, including the Karenni Army and Karen National Liberation Army, have taken steps to end the recruitment of children into their forces. In its report, Human Rights Watch noted that cooperation by the Karenni Army and its efforts since 2002 to end the use of child soldiers had eradicated the practice, and recommended the armed group be removed from the UN secretary-general’s list of parties using child soldiers.

      “Burma’s diplomatic supporters in the Security Council, China and Russia, are also its main arms suppliers,” Becker said. “These countries sell weapons to Burma with scant regard for the impact on the civilian population.”

      Burma’s ‘Fire’ and ‘Water’ foreign policy stymies diplomacy - Kyaw Zwa Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      Burma’s supreme leader Than Shwe holds “fire” in one hand and “water” in the other. Don’t think the junta chief is playing martial arts, like in the Chinese movies he loves to watch.

      Let’s call it the junta’s “fire and water” foreign policy.

      The junta chief, who used to work in the psychological warfare department, practices his policy by dividing his officers into two groups: “fire,” comprised of fiery hard-liners, and “water,” comprised of soft-spoken officers.

      It’s time for everyone, especially world leaders and diplomats, to take a serious look at Burma’s foreign policy, which for almost two decades has managed to manipulate whatever policies the West comes up with to try to move the regime towards democracy and national reconciliation.

      Diplomacy seems to be more crucial than ever to help solve Burma’s crisis, since pro-active, violent means, including nationwide uprisings and armed struggles, have proved ineffective.

      For the international community, diplomacy seems to be the only way to tackle Burma’s crisis. The diplomacy route is what all countries advocate, from the West to the regime’s more vocal supporters, such as China and most of its Asean neighbors.

      The regime’s clever “fire and water” tactic to fend off the diplomatic efforts of its critics was on display at the junta’s press conference in Naypyidaw on Monday.

      One of Than Shwe’s right-hand men, Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, the information minister, ruled out any role for detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the drafting of a new constitution of the military government, even though the international community, including China, has called for an inclusive process in writing the constitution and in national reconciliation.

      “No assistance or advice from other persons is required,” said the minister. That’s the fire.

      Now, for the water. In the same conference, the government’s liaison officer, ex-Gen Aung Kyi, considered “good in dealing with foreign diplomats, said, “We have made progress at the meetings,” referring to his three meetings with Suu Kyi, supposedly to discuss national reconciliation.

      Such “hard” and “soft” messages are ambiguous, at best, and muddy up the analysis made by foreign diplomats, further confusing and blurring the idea of progress or lack of progress.

      In early November when UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma, he was lectured by information minister Kyaw Hsan.

      The information minister told Gambari: “Your Excellency should seriously pay attention to the fact that the government and the entire people are expecting your visit to be constructive for the nation and the people. However, your previous visit did not bear fruit as we had expected. The presidential statement of UN Security Council, the further sanctions of the US and EU, the sanction of Australia, etc., sowed suspicions on your efforts among some of our people.”

      The statement was reported by the junta’s mouthpiece newspapers. Many Burma observers, including diplomats, said the speech was “patronizing.”

      The minister added, “If you bring along the instructions of the leaders of a big power and demands of internal and external anti-government groups, it will in no way contribute towards the seeking of solutions to Myanmar’s [Burma’s] affairs. It will rather increase the existing suspicions of the people.”

      On the other hand, the story was different on the next day when Gambari met Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein. According to inside sources close to the government, Thein Sein spoke with a softer tone to the envoy. Thein Sein invited Gambari to visit again a few weeks later to continue his efforts for national reconciliation.

      In retrospect, Burma’s governments have frequently preferred to craft foreign policy in a bilateral way since it gained its independence from British rule in 1948. During that period, Burmese governments concentrated on neutralism and a non-aligned policy, especially during the Cold War era.

      Months before forming Asean in 1967, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines persuaded the then Burmese government to join the imminent grouping. Late dictator Ne Win’s government turned down the proposal later, saying that Burma couldn’t join the grouping as long as the member countries allowed foreign troops to be based on their soil. The dictator especially referred to its neighbor Thailand, which allowed US military bases.

      However, the successor military regime that deposed him in 1988 viewed its foreign policy differently after the 1990 election, when the opposition National League for Democracy party, led by detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, won the elections in a landslide.

      To nullify the election results, the military regime desperately tried to establish its legitimacy through the regional organization, Asean. Moreover, through Asean it seemed to believe that it might convince the West to recognize it. That’s why it joined Asean and embraced regionalism.

      Burmese governments were comfortable with Asean policies such as non-interference in member countries’ internal affairs and it behind-the-scene, hush-hush diplomatic style.

      Before joining Asean in July 1997, junta chief Than Shwe said at a military training course: “There is nothing to lose by joining Asean; we will only gain from it. It will not hurt our national interests. It will not interfere in our internal affairs.”

      Than Shwe was quoted in a paper, “Regionalism in Myanmar’s Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future,” published by the Asia Research Institute of National University of Singapore.

      In the paper, he said, “…regional groupings or regionalism have become important. We can no longer stick to the “no friend; no foe” policy. We must formulate and follow a new foreign policy of “all friends; no foe.”

      In fact, nothing conceived to date has a chance of defeating or changing the military junta. Diplomatic means such as international sanctions and constructive engagement are failures. The international community has never had, to this day, an effective policy to counter the junta’s diplomacy.

      If the international community can develop an effective policy that somehow gets China and Asean countries to put real pressure on Burma, there could be tangible progress.

      Burma’s junta warned of growing anger - Amy Kazmin
      Financial Times: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      A senior United Nations official expelled from Burma this week warned on Wednesday that a “more volatile situation” lay ahead if the country’s military regime refused to recognise that recent mass protests stemmed from common people’s anger over economic woes.

      In an interview with the Financial Times, Charles Petrie, who until his expulsion on Tuesday was the most senior UN official in Rangoon, warned that without substantive reforms the Burmese junta could be forced to resort to greater repression to keep control over a restive population.

      “It’s very dangerous for the regime not to understand the grievances that people expressed on the streets,” Mr Petrie said. “People came out [to demonstrate] because the pain they are feeling is too much – they are suffering.”

      The regime’s refusal to acknowledge these fundamental grievances, and continued repression, were “a pretty bad cocktail”, he said. “It creates the conditions for an even more volatile situation, which the regime will only be able to contain by increasing violence and intimidation.”

      Burma’s military rulers stunned the international community last month when they abruptly announced that they were ejecting Mr Petrie. The move followed the release of a statement by the UN country team in which it said the September protests reflected widespread frustration “at the everyday struggle to meet basic needs” and called for the junta to address a “deteriorating humanitarian situation”.

      The generals – who have characterised the mass protests as a CIA plot to overthrow them – accused Mr Petrie, who was the UN humanitarian co-ordinator and Development Programme representative, of “acting beyond his capacity by issuing a statement that harms [Burma’s] reputation”.

      Mr Petrie, who was granted a month to leave to ensure an “orderly transition”, said the move against him was part of the regime’s broader campaign to harass its critics and browbeat the local population. “My expulsion is part of the intimidation,” he said.

      Mr Petrie’s comments came as the military toughened its stance towards its domestic and international critics, after making a few conciliatory gestures following the global outcry at their suppression of the protests.

      On Monday Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, information minister, rejected calls by Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy for Burma, for the regime to engage in a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning democracy advocate, on a new constitution.

      In a rare press conference, the minister said the regime was moving ahead and did not need “assistance and advice from other persons”.

      Burmese Army orders destruction of Indo–Burma road
      Khonumthung News: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      The Burmese Army has directed locals in the rural areas of Chin state, Burma to destroy a 10-mile long Indo– Burma border road that connects Chin state and Mizoram state, northeast India.

      The road which is about two-three feet wide links Sabawngte village in Matupi township in Chin state to Capui village in Saiha district in Mizoram state and was constructed by locals from rural areas in both countries under a self reliance programme without the approval of the military authorities.

      Because the construction is illegal, Major Thein Win Myint from Light Infantry Battalion (304) recently posted in Sabawngte village in Matupi Township issued orders to destroy the road.

      “The road on the Burma side is in a bad condition now. It is only two or three feet wide jus about enough to walk on”, said a local.

      Moreover, the soldiers arrested village head U Li He and two other members of the Village Council and took them into custody for a night.

      Later, the village head and the members were released after villagers paid Kyat 300,000 and 5 kilograms of pork to Major Thein Win Myint.

      The so called illegal Indo–Burma road was constructed by locals from both countries to allow people from Mizoram state to go over to Burma to participate in the centenary ceremony that marked hundred years of the arrival of Christian missionaries among the Mara tribe in Chin state.

      Mara’s centenary is to be held on November 12 in Sabawngte village.

      The construction of the road was begun on the first week of November and completed in the end of November this year

      Rumors of Burmese military head facing psychological problems
      Mizzima News: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      Burmese junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe is reportedly suffering from strain and psychological problems and has sought an appointment at a hospital in Singapore for treatment, sources close to the military establishment said.

      “Senior General Than Shwe has suffered a sudden attack and is now seeking an appointment with a psychiatrist in Singapore,” the source told Mizzima.

      While the information cannot be independently confirmed, Htay Aung, a Burmese military analyst based in Thailand said, “It is likely as he [Than Shwe] is getting old.”

      The Burmese military Supremo today met a Chinese official, who pressurized him to conduct economic reforms to solve the socio-economic crisis in the country, the source said. “After the meeting he [Than Shwe] was so angry at having to listen to instructions from the hated Chinese that he fainted,” the source added.

      The source, however, did not elaborate on details of the general’s plan to go to Singapore for treatment.

      Sunflowers—Than Shwe’s latest Yadaya? - Shah Paung
      Irrawaddy: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      First it was physic nuts. Now it’s sunflowers. Farmers in Pegu Division, about 80km north of Rangoon, are being instructed by local authorities to grow them, in the apparent superstitious belief that the flowers symbolize long life for the regime.

      The order last year to grow physic nuts at least had an apparently practical purpose—to provide oil for possible use as an alternative fuel. This time, farmers who dared ask why they were now being ordered to plant sunflowers met only official evasion.

      Local sources told The Irrawaddy that the order to plant sunflowers was issued to farmers in Waw Township and Nyaunglaybin Township, Pegu Division. Each was instructed to buy one pyi (2 kg) of sunflower seed at a cost of 1,500 kyat (US $1.10). No commitment was made to buy seed from the resulting sunflower crop, and no reason was given for the order.

      Sunflower translates into Burmese as Nay Kyar, which literally means “long stay.” The Pegu farmers are convinced that they are being asked to plant Nay Kyar to support the Burmese regime’s hope that it will stay long in power.

      Local people point out that the astrological meaning of Nay is Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Kyar means Monday, the second day. Add the two together and—hey presto!—you have nine, a lucky number in Burma.

      The head of the junta, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, is particularly fond of this superstitious symbolism, known as yadaya.

      When the order went out last year for Burmese households and farmers to grow physic nuts, many believed that yadaya was behind the decision.

      Physic nuts are known as kyet suu in Burmese, a combination of words with the astrological meaning Monday and Tuesday. The name of Than Shwe’s chief adversary, opposition leader Suu Kyi, has the meaning Tuesday-Monday, and it’s said that Than Shwe’s astrologer suggested that by planting kyet suu throughout the country Suu Kyi’s powers could be neutralized by this juxtaposition of four words.

      Arakanese and Burma troops clash on western border
      Narinjara News: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      Dhaka: An gun fight between the Arakan Liberation Army and Burma Army troops took place yesterday on the Indo-Burma border, a local source said.

      The clash took place at Sami Village in Paletwa Township on the Indo-Burma border at around 2 pm , but only lasted for ten minutes, the source said.

      A column of the ALA and Burmese Light Infantry Battalion 344 squared off in an area near the village and the fighting ensued, but there are no further details about the battle.

      “We did not receive detailed information whether any people were injured or killed in the gun fight because many villagers ran away from the area for fear of action by the Burma Army troops,” a villager said.

      Many villagers who live near the site of the clash are hiding in the jungle in the aftermath, of the gun fight because the Burmese Army typically punishes villagers whenever armed fights take place with rebels.

      The Arakan Liberation Army is the armed wing of the Arakan Liberation Party, which has been fighting for Arakanese independence for four decades.

      UWSA clashes with government troops
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 6 Dec 2007

      Soldiers from the United Wa State Army clashed with Burmese government troops in eastern Shan state on 3 December, with both sides suffering casualties, according to the Shan Herald Tribune.

      About 30 soldiers from the ruling State Peace and Development Council’s Light Infantry Battalion 360 and another ten from the allied Lahu militias faced around 50 UWSA troops near Mai Sat in eastern Shan state.

      At the time the fighting occurred, a Burmese government official was visiting the USWA headquarters area in Panghshang to try to persuade the group to release a statement denouncing detained democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s calls for inclusive dialogue.

      However, the skirmish is not thought to have been based on political factors, but to have arisen because of a dispute over control of the drug route.

      Casualties were reported on both sides, but there are no further details on the number of people killed or injured.

      None of the groups involved could be reached for comment.

      Myanmar recruits children for its military
      Manila Times: Friday, December 07, 2007

      NEW YORK: Children as young as 10 are being forcibly recruited into the Myanmar army, bought and sold by military recruiters desperate to swell their ranks, Human Rights Watch said in a report Wednesday.

      The junta, plagued by high desertion rates and a lack of volunteers, is enabling the practice with military recruiters and civilians getting cash and other incentives for each new recruit, the rights group said.

      “The government’s senior generals tolerate the blatant recruitment of children and fail to punish perpetrators,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch.

      “In this environment, army recruiters traffic children at will.”

      Recruiters, desperate to meet quotas set by their superiors, target children at train and bus stations, markets and other public places and threaten them if they refuse to join. Some children are beaten until they agree, said the report entitled “Sold to be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma.”

      The rights group said thousands of children are among the army’s ranks and in some newly-formed battalions, children reportedly represent a large percentage of privates.

      “They filled the forms and asked my age, and when I said 16, I was slapped and he said, ‘You are 18. Answer 18,’” Maung Zaw Oo told Human Rights Watch, recounting the second time he was forced into service.

      Another former child soldier, Than Myint Oo, said: “The officers are corrupt and the battalions have to get recruits, so there’s a business.

      “The battalions bribe the recruiting officers to get recruits for them. These are mostly underage recruits, but the recruiting officers fill out the forms for them and say they’re 18.”

      One boy said he was forced into the army at age 11, despite being only 1.3 meters tall (four feet, three inches) and weighing less than 31 kilos (70 pounds).

      The regime’s recent bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters led by Buddhist monks sparked international outrage, with the United States tightening sanctions on the ruling military junta.

      And the sweep against monks and other protesters may make children more vulnerable to recruitment as the army could “find it even harder to find willing volunteers,” Human Rights Watch said.

      Although the UN Security Council has threatened sanctions against those in the regime linked to the use of child soldiers, it has so far taken no action, it said.

      The report calls for the Security Council to consider possible bans on the supply of arms and military assistance and travel restrictions on regime leaders.

      “The Security Council should fulfill its pledge to hold violators to account for recruiting and using child soldiers,” Becker said.

      “Given Burma’s abysmal record on child soldiers, sanctions against the Burmese military government are clearly warranted,” said Becker, using the country’s previous name.

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