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Old 09-01-2013   #41
Dayuhan
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I don't see the NPA as a personal security threat at all; if I did I wouldn't be here. Of course you're right; having a weapon in the house isn't going to do a whole lot of good if a dozen guys with assault rifles come calling. Only real threat is the possibility of crossfire or just loose rounds flying around, but there hasn't been fighting that close to town here since the early 90s. Main personal impact is that when these things happen there are places I can't go for a while, some trails become dodgy and the wilderness area north becomes a good place to stay out of.

For the town, it's a concern because they make a fair bit of money from tourism and having a bunch of soldiers around is not good for the tourist trade. It's also awkward for locals when they are out doing things they do in the mountains and run into military patrols; the questioning is often quite aggressive and threatening, and people don't like it.

The whole dynamic of insurgency in the Philippines is very different from place to place, even in places that are quite close together. In some ways you have to look at it as a bunch of micro-insurgencies, each with its own characteristics (I suspect that the same applies to many other cases of what is generally perceived as "national" insurgency). In this immediate neighborhood it's heavily influenced by the reality that the tribes really do have full control over their land and resources, and don't need to ally with the NPA to fight off unwanted central government intrusion (as they did in the 70s/80s). In Abra province, a day's walk north of us, it's quite different.

In the 12 years I've been here I haven't felt personally threatened by any of it, hasn't been more than mildly unsettling. If things went back to the way they were from late 80s to early 90s, we'd move.
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Old 09-10-2013   #42
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Almost a year back I wrote this...

Quote:
MNLF factions have expressed displeasure, less with the agreement than with their exclusion from the negotiating process.
Last month Nur Misuari, the leader of one such faction "declared independence", and claimed a new republic consisting of Mindanao, Palawan, the Sulu archipelago, and Sabah and Sarawak.

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/re...s-independence

Misuari doesn't have the influence he had back in the 90s, and has been one of those most notably peeved at being left out of the peace agreement with the MILF. The declaration was not taken terrible seriously.

This week, an MNLF force believed to be loyal to Misuari attacked Zamboanga. The situation remains ongoing, several districts of the city are effectively occupied, hostages have been taken. Today there were reports of fighting very close to City Hall. The initial goal was allegedlyu to hoist the MNLF flag at City Hall.

It's a considerable escalation, as Zamboanga has long been fairly peaceful. Hard to know where it will go. The number of sub-leaders loyal to Misuari and the number of troops they control is not accurately known; estimates vary widely. I've read figures from under 1000 to 4000, don't think anyone really knows. These figure can change rapidly as local leader shift alliances.

It's widely suspected in Manila that the whole thing is an effort to distract from a huge ongoing corruption scandal involving major political figures; there may or may not be something to that. It does illustrate the difficulty of negotiating peace, and the number of potential spoiler groups involved.

Reportage on the Zamboanga situation:

http://www.philstar.com/nation/2013/...k-its-villages

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/484401/...-leaves-6-dead

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/re...anga-city-hall
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Old 09-14-2013   #43
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Fighting still ongoing in Zamboanga...

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/...98D02V20130914

Quote:
Fighting intensified on Saturday in the southern Philippines between government troops and rogue Muslim separatists, shattering a ceasefire almost immediately as it was to go into effect and leaving many residents running low on supplies.

The army said 53 people had been killed in the fighting, now in its sixth day in the port city of Zamboanga, known as the city of flowers.

Dozens have been wounded and more than 60,000 people displaced, with hundreds of homes razed and a hospital still in flames. Rebels have fired on government positions and seized civilians to use as human shields.
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Old 09-14-2013   #44
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http://www.philstar.com/headlines/20...oanga-conflict

Indonesia wants peaceful resolution of Zamboanga conflict

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Natalegawa said Indonesia is always ready, at the request of stakeholders, to contribute to the restoration of normalcy in southern Philippines.

The European Union also expressed concern over the conflict in Zamboanga as it called on the Misuari-led faction of the MNLF to release the civilian hostages without preconditions.
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/487263/...ght-says-binay

Quote:
MANILA, Philippines—After five days of heavy fighting, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chair Nur Misuari and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin have agreed to observe a ceasefire and discuss a “peaceful settlement” of the crisis in Zamboanga City, Vice President Jejomar Binay said Friday night.
http://mnlfnet.com/Articles/Editoria...%20Respect.htm

From the MNLF website

Quote:
CAUSES OF THE SUDDEN ERUPTION OF FILIPINO-MORO WAR IN ZAMBOANGA CITY

The Filipino-Moro war raging now in Zamboanga City between the colonial Philippine occupation soldiers and the Bangsamoro freedom fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) could not have occurred if the present Aquino government respected only the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements.
break

Quote:
Thus, once the MNLF leadership was informed by the OIC of the tactical move of the Aquino regime to terminate the peace process with the Moro National Liberation Front, the MNLF Chairman in consultation with the various MNLF leaders decided to prepare a revolutionary government constitution towards the establishment of the United Federated States of Bangsamoro Republik (UFSBR) during last week of July, 2013. -
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Old 09-14-2013   #45
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Indonesia hasn't been much involved so far; the Malaysians have been trying to act as a broker, but of course there's a fair bit of mistrust on the Philippine side, given the Sabah claim (fairly dodgy, but many Filipinos remain emotionally attached to it) and the history of Malaysian support for the MNLF in the 70s. It might be possible for Indonesia to play a role, but it's hard to see what they could do about this incident.

Quote:
MANILA, Philippines—After five days of heavy fighting, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chair Nur Misuari and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin have agreed to observe a ceasefire and discuss a “peaceful settlement” of the crisis in Zamboanga City, Vice President Jejomar Binay said Friday night.
Gazmin denied this soon after, and the fighting went on unabated. The Vice President belongs to the opposition party, and may have been trying to grab a bit of TV time.

Quote:
CAUSES OF THE SUDDEN ERUPTION OF FILIPINO-MORO WAR IN ZAMBOANGA CITY

The Filipino-Moro war raging now in Zamboanga City between the colonial Philippine occupation soldiers and the Bangsamoro freedom fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) could not have occurred if the present Aquino government respected only the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements.
The MNLF really has only themselves to blame: after the '96 agreement they descended into factionalism and the leaders who were able to gain official positions were too busy at the feeding trough to look after the mass base, much of which splintered away to the MILF, ASG etc. Now of course the MNLF sees themselves being boxed out of the process and they want to push their way back in. While they have degraded to a large extent they still have sufficient force to make a mess, and if they get money they can raise more... sub-leaders and their troops in the region change allegiance very easily and will follow the money.

Where the money comes from is another question. There are strong suspicions that the fighting is related to events in Manila, where a huge corruption scandal has been unfolding. A number of those in the center of the scandal are core opposition members, including some figures who have been at or near the center of events for a long time. Some of these individuals are known to have been involved in coup plots in the past, some are well connected in both the military and the rebel movements.

There's suspicion that the Kiram incursion in Sabah was actually staged to embarrass Aquino (it succeeded) and diminish his hold on government (less successful), and there are suspicions that this incident in Zamboanga is a shot across the bow: lay off the untouchables or more of the same will follow.

Interesting times...
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Old 09-15-2013   #46
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Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
Indonesia hasn't been much involved so far; the Malaysians have been trying to act as a broker, but of course there's a fair bit of mistrust on the Philippine side, given the Sabah claim (fairly dodgy, but many Filipinos remain emotionally attached to it) and the history of Malaysian support for the MNLF in the 70s. It might be possible for Indonesia to play a role, but it's hard to see what they could do about this incident.

Gazmin denied this soon after, and the fighting went on unabated. The Vice President belongs to the opposition party, and may have been trying to grab a bit of TV time.

The MNLF really has only themselves to blame: after the '96 agreement they descended into factionalism and the leaders who were able to gain official positions were too busy at the feeding trough to look after the mass base, much of which splintered away to the MILF, ASG etc. Now of course the MNLF sees themselves being boxed out of the process and they want to push their way back in. While they have degraded to a large extent they still have sufficient force to make a mess, and if they get money they can raise more... sub-leaders and their troops in the region change allegiance very easily and will follow the money.

Where the money comes from is another question. There are strong suspicions that the fighting is related to events in Manila, where a huge corruption scandal has been unfolding. A number of those in the center of the scandal are core opposition members, including some figures who have been at or near the center of events for a long time. Some of these individuals are known to have been involved in coup plots in the past, some are well connected in both the military and the rebel movements.

There's suspicion that the Kiram incursion in Sabah was actually staged to embarrass Aquino (it succeeded) and diminish his hold on government (less successful), and there are suspicions that this incident in Zamboanga is a shot across the bow: lay off the untouchables or more of the same will follow.

Interesting times...
Sadly, all you suspicions are quite possible, and while some like to say all politics is local that is far from practice in the real world. Internal national level politics in Manila may ultimately be more important than local politics in the south. I'm not venturing any guesses on the future in this case, because this event can play out as a catalyst for second and third order effects in a variety of ways (both for the better and worse). Three steps forwards, two backwards, that is the nature of these conflicts.
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Old 09-15-2013   #47
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I wouldn't say the national level is more important, just that it's a factor. Manila factions can't just conjure up tension or trouble in the south, but they can manipulate existing local tension to some degree, especially when money is involved it usually is). It's been likely for a long time that the MNLF would emerge as a spoiler in the Government-MILF talks, but the timing of this incident, and that of last February's eccentricity, suggest that a Manila hand may be stirring an already frothing pot.
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Old 09-15-2013   #48
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Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
I wouldn't say the national level is more important, just that it's a factor. Manila factions can't just conjure up tension or trouble in the south, but they can manipulate existing local tension to some degree, especially when money is involved it usually is). It's been likely for a long time that the MNLF would emerge as a spoiler in the Government-MILF talks, but the timing of this incident, and that of last February's eccentricity, suggest that a Manila hand may be stirring an already frothing pot.
Fair enough, but you cannot get to a sustainable solution without Manila. It is all interconnected in many ways.
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Old 09-16-2013   #49
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Fair enough, but you cannot get to a sustainable solution without Manila. It is all interconnected in many ways.
Manila might be part of a solution if it chose to be, but the will isn't there.

Mindanao's problems are irretrievably connected to the scourge of big man politics, and to the effective exemption from law enjoyed bu those who represent the state. The real challenge for Manila is not bringing the rebels and bandits within the rule of law, it's bringing its own agents within the rule of law.

Unfortunately, Manila and it's many factions generally don't want to do this (whether or not they could even if they wanted to remains a matter of some doubt, but we won't know unless they find the will). The big men are useful. When you need a trusty baron to deliver 165% of the votes in his jurisdiction to your cause, you look to Mindanao and make a deal (ask Gloria Arroyo about that). When you need to make trouble for your political antagonists, you make a deal in Mindanao. Manila leaders have generally found the status quo to be something they can manage to their own interest, and over generations of that the Mindanao political culture has taken on a life of its own and will be no easy thing to stamp out.

On the matters referred to above, we now have this:

http://www.tribune.net.ph/index.php/...-decision-made

That's an open threat to Aquino: lay off on the corruption cases, or else.
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Old 12-09-2013   #50
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Default Five Myths About Helping the Philippines

Five Myths About Helping the Philippines

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Old 02-28-2014   #51
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Default Mindanao vignette...

Just back from some time in Lanao del Sur, one of those places the Embassy tells you to never ever even think about going. Wasn't there for research, or to reach any deep conclusions, but there was a bit of casual observation...

Awake early one morning, before dawn, up on a hill watching lights come on down on the plateau in the town of Wao. Inevitably the scratchy loudspeaker as the muezzin emerges with morning prayers, followed by a series of community announcements... and after that, a rousing if distorted recording of Lady Gaga doing Bad Romance. Muslim Filipinos are still Filipinos, and if anyone in Saudi Arabia is sending money to bring that particular mosque over to Wahhabi austerities, they aren't getting their money's worth.

Wao isn't really typical of anything, but in Central Mindanao the atypical is typical. The town occupies a corner of Lanao del Sur, between Bukidnon (dominated by Christian settlers) and Muslim-dominated North Cotabato. It's cut off from the heavily MILF-dominated easterm portion of Lanao del Sur by a densely forested mountain range. The once dominant Muslim Maranao are now about 30% of the population. The other 70% is an ethnolinguistic halo-halo of settlers from around the country and a few thoroughly downtrodden remnants of indigenous hill tribes.

Local officialdom is quick to claim an exception to the rule, with Christian settlers and Muslims living peacefully side by side. They still think it necessary to supply outsiders with armed escorts; in our case a dozen or so militiamen. Their fondness for alcohol was a bit disturbing, but at least they didn't have the magically bullet-proofing amulets and glazed over stares I've seen elsewhere. I don't know if they were there because the officials thought them necessary or because they thought we thought them necessary... they did not seem to be expecting trouble, and their presence seemed pretty perfunctory.

Muslims and Christians lived in geographically distinct neighborhoods in town, in separate villages in the countryside. Some visible blending, but still a very distinct separation at the most basic level. Local officials were pretty diplomatic, but the militiamen were pretty blunt about the perception that the place is peaceful because they (the Christian settlers) are warriors who take no $#!t from the Muslims and keep them in line.

I did slip the leash and get into town alone at one point. I tried to open some conversations with Muslim vendors and in a Halal eatery. Usually that's not too difficult; people are naturally curious about a white guy who speaks languages. The people I talked to seemed very reserved and even a bit suspicious; it was hard to get them even into the small talk stage, let alone relax things to a point where conversation could be directed... hence little observation of perception in that quarter.

The most visible dichotomy was not between Muslim and Christian, but between rich and poor. The area is extremely fertile: rolling plateau dominated by large fields of pineapple, corn, sugar cane, and rubber. One of the few places in the Philippines where I've seen large tractors and other agricultural equipment deployed on a large scale. Very little food production for local consumption, and rather low efficiency: no intercropping in rubber plantations, reject pineapples left to rot in the fields, etc. Despite substantial agricultural resources, the large majority that does not own land live in really abject poverty, a pretty dramatic contrast to the egalitarian, highly intensive, and hyper-efficient production up here in the northern tribal country.

In short, while the observations and conversations were generally casual, the impression I came away with was of a place where the inherent potential for tension between the many dirt-poor landless laborers and the few relatively affluent landowners is re-directed into enduring tension between indigenous Muslims and Christian settlers. As is the case in much of Mindnaao, this is encouraged by local elites on their sides, who would rather see their people directing fear and suspicion at "the other" than questioning the extreme economic inequalities that prevail within their own social groups.

Could say much more, but that's already probably too much...
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Old 02-28-2014   #52
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Great report and insights. I've never been there (sounds beautiful, if tragic), but this rings very accurate.
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Old 03-14-2014   #53
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Default An interesting day in Jolo

This group:

https://www.facebook.com/BASSAKAO

Is entirely local, and has received little local and no foreign press coverage that I've seen. Today, though, they are doing the unthinkable and saying the unsayable. This afternoon, March 14, there will be a local citizens rally in the town of Jolo demanding an end to kidnapping and other crimes, which are increasingly targeting local residents. The rally will go on despite discouragement and thinly veiled threats (will you take responsibility if there's a bombing?") from local officials.

What makes this historic is that the group is openly declaring what everyone has long known but nobody, until now, has been willing to say: that local government and security officials are complicit in and directly involved with these activities and the groups, including the ASG, that pursue them. It is fascinating that this wall of silence is being finally broken not by the Manila government, not by the US leaders who have surely known about this for years, but by fed-up local citizens.

Where it goes remains to be seen, but I wish them luck, and hope they stay safe: what they are doing is very, very dangerous.
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Old 03-15-2014   #54
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Yesterday's Jolo rally concluded peacefully, although, as one participant put it:

Quote:
During the Duration of the Indignation Rally: No Electricity, No Cable TV, No Radio Stations, No TV, Low Cellphone Signal. No Open Business Establishments! Do we really look like dreaded terrorists?
Hopefully nobody moves against individual leaders and participants, and they can press on and gather some political momentum.
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Old 03-28-2014   #55
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There is officially a deal:

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story...-law-and-order

Where that leads is another question altogether: no shortage of spoilers and and many doubts even among suppoerte3rs of those represented. Still, it's an opportunity.
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Old 06-27-2014   #56
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Default OEF-P Shutting Down?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/wo...=tw-share&_r=0
Quote:

U.S. Phasing Out Its Counterterrorism Unit in Philippines


An elite American military counterterrorism unit that has been operating in the southern Philippines for more than a decade is being phased out, the Pentagon’s Pacific Command said Thursday...
About time, IMO: the effort has accomplished as much as it was ever going to accomplish. Hasn't solved the problem, but only the Philippine government can do that in any case.
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Old 06-27-2014   #57
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Old 08-07-2014   #58
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Default Peace plan looking shaky...

The GRP/MILF peace process always looked to have some serious issues, but it's looking more and more as if it may be sunk before it really gets started, a casualty of Manila politics. Basically, Manila is at a point where anything associated with the current President is being put through the wringer by well connected political opponents. The plan as agreed might have gotten through the legislature and survived the Supreme Court at the peak of Aquino's power. Today it probably won't. In an effort to make it palatable the administration seems to be trying to water it down, predictable incurring the wrath of the MILF negotiators, who expect to be accused of selling out their own people.

Some coverage:

https://ph.news.yahoo.com/philippine...063640481.html

The comments section of the article is revealing: it's a fair representation of public opinion among the Christian majority, much of which opposes any concession to the Muslims.

Not clear yet how it will sort out, but there's little basis for optimism. If this agreement is ditched it will be the second time: several years ago the MILF reached an agreement with the Government only to see it shot down by the Supreme Court. If that happens again the credibility of the moderate, negotiation-oriented factions in the insurgency is going to be largely gone, and the radicals will presumably take advantage.
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Last edited by Dayuhan; 08-07-2014 at 08:20 AM.
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Old 10-13-2014   #59
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Default Another incident potentially involving a US serviceman...

This hit the social media mill yesterday, in the news today:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/wo...=pl-share&_r=0

Quote:
OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines — The Philippine police and United States Navy officials are investigating whether a member of the United States military killed a 26-year-old Filipino cross-dresser in a hotel over the weekend, the police said Monday.

Superintendent Pedrito Delos Reyes of the Philippine police said Monday that the United States Naval Criminal Investigative Service was questioning a member of the United States military in connection with the death on Saturday of the Filipino, Jeffrey Laude, a resident of Olongapo City.
Additional coverage:

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10...sgender-murder

Apparently the US Navy has stopped the departure of the ships, suggesting that there is something to it all:

http://www.rappler.com/nation/71882-...longapo-murder

Quote:
US Pacific Command Admiral Samuel Locklear III ordered to put on hold the scheduled departure of US ships pending the investigation on the murder of a transgender that tagged an American serviceman.
The incident, no matter how it plays out, will be gleefully received by the left and will be a substantial embarrassment to the Philippine government, which has just negotiated an expanded military access agreement.

These things happen every so often, and the publicity is always huge and damaging... in 2005 a Marine named Daniel Smith was convicted of raping a girl he picked up in a bar, to enormous attendant outcry. The conviction was reversed by a higher court, after the victim recanted her testimony... a few weeks later she got a shiny new US visa, so you can figure what happened. On the basis of evidence presented, if he'd done the same thing in the US he'd have unquestionably been convicted.

What completely baffles me is why they keep letting these guys to hit the town and hit the booze. Given the nature of the alcohol/testosterone mix, that's a guarantee that sooner or later someone is going to step in the scheisse . I know everyone remembers the bad old days in Subic and how much fun it all was, but those days are gone and mistakes now have consequences. All they have to do to prevent these incidents is keep the boys on the boat or at least under supervision, and keep them off the booze and the hookers. If they can do it in Afghanistan they can do it in the Philippines... but they don't, and this is the result.

To me the only available option is to turn the guy over to the local justice system, let the embassy monitor proceedings, sail away and dump him. There's going to be all kinds of commotion over having him detained and questioned by Americans, and that's understandable. I would also hope that there are some kind of consequences for whoever made the stupid-ass decision to let him off the leash in the first place, because these incidents are totally preventable.

/rant
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Old 10-14-2014   #60
WGEwald
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Captain Cook would have had the sailor given 12 lashes and continued on.

Anyways

Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement
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