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UN Rights Council Discusses Human Rights In Burma

Human Rights Council Discusses Follow-up To Special Session On Situation Of Human Rights In Myanmar

The Human Rights Council discussed follow-up to the Special Session on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

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Tomas Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said he had taken up the function of Special Rapporteur on 1 May 2008. Only a few weeks had passed and already a number of events entailing human rights implications had happened. In addition to the devastating cyclone, Myanmar had held its referendum on the adoption of the draft Constitution. On 27 May, the Government had announced the extension of the detention under house arrest of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Her detention was in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yesterday he had also received worrying reports regarding the arrest of Mr. Zarganar who had been leading some of the relief efforts after the cyclone. His whereabouts remained unknown. The Special Rapporteur would like to establish good working relations with the Government of Myanmar. He saw his role as assisting the Government in the realization of the fundamental rights of the people of Myanmar.

Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said Myanmar strongly rejected the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the political process in the country. The National Referendum and the political process were internal matters and sovereign rights of the people of Myanmar. By criticizing this process, the Special Rapporteur had acted beyond his mandate. With respect to the events of August and September 2007, the Government had already confirmed that the total death was 15 persons. The Government had detained 2,927 persons and legal actions had been taken against 80 persons for violation of the law. The rest had been freed. One hundred and ninety eight persons were arrested between August 2007 and February 2008. There were no political prisoners in Myanmar.

Regarding the cyclone victims, Myanmar said the relief, resettlement and rehabilitation measures for the victims were the top priority for the Government. The Special Rapporteur's report lacked objectivity and constructive recommendations. Human rights must be recommended with respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States.

In the interactive dialogue, delegations said the openness of the Myanmar authorities to international aid in response to Cyclone Nargis should have been swifter. The cooperation of the authorities was essential. At the same time, it was underlined that for Myanmar to be hit by such a tragedy at a crucial point in its national democratisation process was an additional challenge which was not easy to overcome. It had hoped that the international community would involve itself without politicizing the event. The importance of the promotion and protection of human rights through dialogue and cooperation was underlined. Some speakers expressed deep concern about the situation of human rights in Myanmar which they said continued to be characterized by ongoing systemic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar. A dialogue with all components of the society of Myanmar would be necessary to achieve genuine national reconciliation and full respect of human rights.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue on Myanmar were the delegations of India, Slovenia on behalf of the European Union, the Philippines, Germany, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Sweden, China, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore, Argentina, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and Indonesia.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Service for Human Rights Leagues; Asian Legal Resource Centre; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), in a joint statement with International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development; Ain O Salish Kendro (Ask) Law and Mediation Centre; and Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.

The Council today is holding three back-to-back meetings from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. When the Council resumes its meeting, it will hold a general debate on its agenda item four on human rights situations that require the Council's attention.

Report on Human Rights Situation in Myanmar

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar on the implementation of Council resolutions S-5/1 and 6/33 (A/HRC/8/12), which is a follow-up report on the status of implementation of Council resolutions S-5/1, and 6/33. In the report, the Special Rapporteur focuses on the human rights issues pertinent to the current constitutional process in the country, the developments with regard to the crackdown on the demonstrations in September 2007, and the human rights impact of tropical Cyclone Nargis. Since the present report is his first to be submitted to the Council, the Special Rapporteur also presents an overview of his methodology and programme of work in discharging his mandate. In the report, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government of Myanmar immediately release the General Secretary of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi, as an initial step in the reconciliation process, to be followed by the release of all other political prisoners. The Government should also set-up an effective mechanism to establish the whereabouts of those who reportedly disappeared during and after the crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations in September 2007 and guarantee the physical integrity of all political prisoners. It should also fully respect freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, in particular at this crucial time in the establishment of the solid foundations of a healthy democracy. Further, it should continue to uphold the agreements made with the Secretary-General to allow international humanitarian workers and supplies unhindered access to the country and particularly to the areas affected by Cyclone Nargis, and cooperate with the international community in monitoring questions of access and in assessing the need for effectiveness of the aid being supplied.

Presentation by Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

TOMAS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, addressed his first words and thoughts to the families of victims of Cyclone Nargis and expressed his condolences. He noted that he had taken up the function of Special Rapporteur on 1 May 2008. Only a few weeks had passed and already a number of events entailing human rights implications had happened. In addition to the devastating cyclone, Myanmar had held its referendum on the adoption of the draft Constitution which had been approved by 92.48 percent of votes, according to the Commission for Holding the Referendum. On 27 May, the Government had announced the extension of the detention under house arrest of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Her detention was in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yesterday he had also received worrying reports regarding the arrest of Mr. Zarganar who had been leading some of the relief efforts after the cyclone. His whereabouts remained unknown. The Special Rapporteur expected clarification from the authorities on this case.

Mr. Ojea Quintana said that his first report focused on developments regarding the aftermath of the peaceful demonstrations of last fall. The report was based on reliable information he had received, since his request for a visit had not yet been responded to. The Special Rapporteur would like to establish good working relations with the Government of Myanmar. He saw his role as assisting the Government in the realization of the fundamental rights of the people of Myanmar. He also relied on the Council to facilitate his interaction with the authorities in Myanmar.

With regard to Cyclone Nargis, Mr. Ojea Quintana appealed to all those involved in the humanitarian assistance to ensure respect for the fundamental rights of all victims. Aid workers should ensure that assistance was equally provided to the most affected areas. Basic rights should be provided to every victim and special attention be paid to children separated from their parents. Enforced relocation of communities should be avoided. With regard to the referendum, the Special Rapporteur recommended a report by the Government on how it had been conducted. He highlighted that, by definition, a democracy was a forum where different and various opinions were expressed without threats. In this regard, all political prisoners should be released and impunity should be combated thorough investigations into cases of human rights violations.

Statement of Myanmar as Concerned Country

WUNNA MAUNG LWIN (Myanmar), speaking as a concerned country, expressed gratitude to all countries for conveying their sympathy and for providing supplies to victims of the cyclone disaster. The Government had taken an important step towards a democratic society by voting overwhelmingly in favour to adopt the new State Constitution. On 10 and 24 May 2008 elections were held; the total voting turnout was 98.12 per cent of the population. Of those who participated approximately 92 per cent voted for the adoption of the constitution and 6 per cent against. The Government was set to hold general elections in 2010. Myanmar strongly rejected the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the political process in the country. The National Referendum and the political process were internal matters and sovereign rights of the people of Myanmar. By criticizing this process, the Special Rapporteur had acted beyond his mandate.

With respect to the extension of the restraint of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Council of Ministers was empowered to extend the terms up to five years. Recently, the fifth restriction order was passed to restrain her from 28 May 2008 to 27 May 2009. This would make the restraint four years and six months. Therefore the Central Body did not exceed the limit provided by the said law.

With respect to the events of August and September 2007, the Government had already confirmed that the total death was 15 persons. The Government had detained 2,927 persons and legal actions had been taken against 80 persons for violation of the law. The rest had been freed. One hundred and ninety eight persons were arrested between August 2007 and February 2008. Only 88 persons out of 718 individuals referred to in the report were among those arrested. Among those 198 persons, one had been released and nine had been sentenced. The remaining 188 persons were in the process of legal proceedings. There were no political prisoners in Myanmar.

The complaints against missing people outlined in the report by the Special Rapporteur had not been received by local police. These missing people's could have fled to the surrounding border areas or neighbouring countries. The report was factually incorrect as it was based on the information provided by anti-government elements. The Government had constantly been engaged with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Regarding the cyclone victims, the relief, resettlement and rehabilitation measures for the victims was the top priority of the Government. Since 3 May, the Government had taken all possible and practical measures in collaboration with the international community in relief and resettlement and to rebuild and rehabilitate the livelihood of the victims socially and economically. The Government hosted a pledging conference, where 51 countries and 24 International members attended. The Special Rapporteur's report lacked objectivity and constructive recommendations. The Government was doing every possible way and means to improve and promote human rights. Human rights issues must be addressed with respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States.

Interactive Dialogue on Report of Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights of Myanmar

SWASHPAWAN SINGH (India) thanked the Special Rapporteur and the delegation of Myanmar. As a close and friendly neighbour, it was natural that there had been sympathy for Myanmar in India. India was among the first countries to provide aid to Myanmar. It had hoped that the international community would involve itself without politicizing the event. India would be assisting Myanmar with reconstruction. India had always emphasised the importance of the promotion and protection of human rights through dialogue and cooperation. It recognized the need to expedite the process and make it more inclusive. It supported the United Nations Secretary-General's good offices role and that of his Special Envoy. The best course of action was continued engagement, not sanctions.

ANDREJ LOGAR (Slovenia), speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted with regret that the Special Rapporteur concluded in his report that almost no improvements had been made. The European Union fully concurred with the conclusions of the Special Rapporteur. The openness of the authorities for international aid should have been swifter. The Human Rights Council had reacted timely to the urgent human rights situation by convening a Special Session in October last year. However it was noted with great concern that the Special Session's resolution remained unimplemented on a number of points. The advent of Cyclone Nargis had certainly compounded the situation; the cooperation of the authorities was essential to ensure that even greater tragedy did not befall the Burmese people. Effective delivery of humanitarian aid had to be overseen by expert staff. The Government had failed to ensure timely and unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to their people in dire need. The authorities had failed in many aspects in their obligations towards their own population. The authorities were encouraged to enter dialogue with the Special Rapporteur.

ERLINDA F. BASILIO (Philippines) said that Myanmar was a country beset by a number of daunting challenges. To have been hit by such a tragedy at a crucial point in its national democratization process was an additional challenge, which was surely not easy to overcome, given the scope and complexities involved in the massive rescue and relief efforts required to get people back to safety and start rebuilding communities and lives. The Philippines has pledged financial, medical, and other assistance to the Government of Myanmar. The Philippines had sent a 30-member medical team to assist in relief efforts, as well as medicines and other relief goods.

The Philippines noted the statement of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and his report. They appreciated segments of the report which outlined desires to engage in constructive dialogue and cooperation with the Government of Myanmar. With regard to paragraph 67 of the report concerning the planned database, there was a danger in drawing conclusions from unsubstantial allegations. Further, the Philippines asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the purpose of this database and the working method to be employed for the consideration of the Council.

ANKE KONRAD (Germany) said Germany remained deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Myanmar, which continued to be characterized by ongoing systemic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar. It felt deeply for those who were affected by Cyclone Nargis. Germany welcomed the establishment of a coordination mechanism for immediate humanitarian relief. It urged the Government of Myanmar to redouble its efforts to make the mechanism more effective and grant access to international humanitarian assistance. The Government could use the opportunity for national reconciliation, the prime gesture being the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar. Germany strongly deplored the latest extension of the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The constitutional referendum was untimely, conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation and thus lacked required credibility. Germany urged the Government of Myanmar to allow a free and open debate prior to multi-party elections that were to be held in 2010. It called on Myanmar to closely cooperate with the international community, in particular with the Human Rights Council and the Special Rapporteur in order to help improve the human rights situation in Myanmar.

AZWA AFFENDI BAKHTIAR (Malaysia) said that national reconciliation and consolidation of democratic process were fundamental to enduring peace. The holding of the National Referendum had been significant for Myanmar as it moved towards the full implementation of the seven-step roadmap to democracy. It was important for the authorities to continue to engage the relevant stakeholders in the country to enable them to play a more effective role as partners in the national reconciliation process. Malaysia believed that the continued engagement with the international community would be beneficial to Myanmar in dealing with the many challenges it was facing. It was regrettable that the Special Rapporteur's report had been submitted to the Council without him having a chance for in-depth research.

OSAMU YAMANAKA (Japan) said Japan welcomed the report and the explanation by the Ambassador of Myanmar. In response to the cyclone, Japan had extended assistance to Myanmar. Concerning the acceptance of assistance from the international community, Japan stressed the importance of expediting this assistance in a fast and timely manner. Japan was deeply concerned about the detention of protesters last year and urged the release of these detainees. Japan encouraged Myanmar to cooperate and hold a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur and accept his request to visit the country. Japan urged the Government of Myanmar to adopt democratic principles.

PITCHAYAPHANT CHARNBHUMIDOL (Thailand) congratulated the Special Rapporteur. Thailand hoped that his appointment would lead to a balanced and constructive deliberation of the situation of human rights in Myanmar. It welcomed his assurance that he would take a positive approach in discharging his mandate. Thailand hoped that Myanmar would reciprocate with greater cooperation. As a neighbour, Thailand closely followed the situation in Myanmar. It was important for the Human Rights Council to enhance the collaboration with Myanmar. Thailand hoped that the international community and interested stakeholders would encourage and support Myanmar's process towards democratization and national reconciliation. It believed the roadmap announced by the Government provided a basis to engage with Myanmar. The Government of Myanmar was accountable to the process it had launched. The Special Rapporteur should look at specific measures to engage with and assist Myanmar.

HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden) underlined Sweden's serious concern about the human rights situation in Myanmar. The country's authorities' obligation to refrain from human rights violations was underlined. A dialogue with all components of Burmese society would be necessary to achieve genuine national reconciliation and full respect of human rights. All Governments had to protect their populations and to allow the safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian organisations to persons affected by disasters.

ZHOU XIANFENG (China) hoped that the Special Rapporteur would take a more objective and partial role to be constructive on the issue. The Chinese people in their effort to recover after the earthquake had expressed great sympathy with the Myanmar people and extended disaster relief. The international community should give full respect to the wishes of Myanmar and continue to give relief and assistance as requested by Myanmar. China did not agree with the politicization of the disaster relief. The Special Rapporteur and the Government of Myanmar should continue to engage in dialogue and cooperate towards democracy and development. The concrete steps taken by Myanmar in May 2008 and the setting of general elections in 2010 were important steps to achieving the seven steps of the road map.

MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada) welcomed the Special Rapporteur and his report. Canada extended sympathy to those affected by the cyclone. The Government of Canada committed almost $14 million in support. It remained deeply concerned by the ongoing challenges reported by humanitarian actors. It called on the Myanmar regime to provide full and unhindered access for humanitarian workers. Canada remained deeply concerned for the regime's complete disregard for the human rights of its people. It condemned the continued house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. Last October the Canadian Parliament conferred honorary Canadian citizenship on her in recognition of her efforts. Canada called on the regime to release all political prisoners.

Canada questioned the Representative of Myanmar who had said there were no political prisoners in Myanmar. The recent referendum was conducted in a climate of fear and intimidation. Many of those who expressed their opposition to the Constitution were subjected to harassment, intimidation, or outright detention. It failed to give the people of Myanmar a genuine voice in the way they are governed and could not be considered part of a legitimate democratic process. Canada called on the Government of Myanmar to include all concerned parties in both constitutional and electoral process in order to allow for true national reconciliation. It regretted there was no response from the Government to the request of the Special Rapporteur to visit the country.

DONG-HEE CHANG (Republic of Korea) said that it was the responsibility of any government to ensure at all times the protection of its people. The efforts undertaken by Myanmar's Government to allow aid workers in the country were welcomed. The Government was encouraged to continue in this direction. As announced by the United Nations Spokesperson, only 49 percent of the victims had been assisted thus far. It was hoped that the international community would continue to provide assistance. The holding of the referendum was appreciated. However, concerns were shared over the lack of basic requirements for the process to be fully credible and acceptable. The concerns over the situation of political prisoners were also shared. The Government of Myanmar was urged to intensify its cooperation with the international community and the United Nations mechanisms.

MICHAEL MCBRYDE (New Zealand) congratulated Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana on his appointment as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. New Zealand would support his work in engaging with the Myanmar Government. New Zealand called on the Government of Myanmar in October and March to implement the recommendations made in the report of the previous Special Rapporteur. It remained deeply concerned about human rights in Myanmar, particularly in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. New Zealand was concerned by the Government's slow and reluctant response to accept international humanitarian assistance and specialist personnel at a time when they were most needed. It noted the Government's announcement that it would allow aid workers into the Irrawaddy Delta and hoped this constituted a real commitment. New Zealand called upon the Government of Myanmar to work towards the achievement of universal human rights. New Zealand supported the work of the United Nations to sustain a dialogue and build a foundation for a future and said for that to happen Myanmar must engage with the United Nations. New Zealand deplored the recent decision of the Government of Myanmar to extend the detention of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and called for her immediate and unconditional release.

TARA MURPHY (Ireland) said Ireland remained deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation in Myanmar after the cyclone. While the immediate priority was humanitarian relief, the need for a genuine transition to democracy in Myanmar was stronger than ever. Ireland deplored the decision of the Government to effectively ignore this major humanitarian disaster and to proceed in most of its territory with an already fundamentally flawed referendum. Ireland condemned the decision to extend the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. It urged the Government to ensure her immediate release and that of all political prisoners. Ireland deplored the Government's lack of response to the request of the Special Rapporteur to visit the country. No real progress had been made in allying any of the international communities concerns. Ireland welcomed the Secretary-General's personal engagement.

TAN YORK CHOR (Singapore) said that Singapore's and ASEAN's positions had not changed since the November 2007 ASEAN Summit in Singapore. The status quo in Myanmar was unacceptable. The process of reconciliation had to move forward and the United Nations had a critical role in this process. The referendum was a small step in the right direction. Bolder steps were necessary. The recent extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest was a disappointment. It was regrettable that Myanmar's response to cyclone Nargis had been not as swift as they would have liked to see it. The frustrations of the international community were shared.

SEBASTIAN ROSALES (Argentina) expressed sympathy to the victims of cyclone in Myanmar. Argentina welcomed and thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report. Argentina had supported the Special Session on human rights in Myanmar, and the review, rationalization and improvement process of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Argentina hoped that the Special Rapporteur would continue his work to promote the protection of human rights in Myanmar.

AMEER AJWAD OMER LEBBE (Sri Lanka) expressed condolences to the victims of the cyclone. Sri Lanka welcomed the efforts of ASEAN and the United Nations. It appreciated the efforts of the Government of Myanmar in pursuing the democratization process in accordance with the seven-step road map. The initiatives taken by the Government should be encouraged and recognized by the international community. The international community should be objective, balanced and patient and should be guided by Myanmar's neighbours and the nations from the same region in order to help Myanmar overcome its challenges. Sri Lanka wished the Government every success.

MURIEL BERSET (Switzerland) said that during its fifth Special Session, the Council had adopted a resolution on Myanmar, but its goals had still not been reached. The lack of will to move forward was deplored. Cyclone Nargis had devastated the region and had left behind many victims. In such a situation, a speedy humanitarian assistance was often a question of life and death. The rights of victims had to be respected. It was deplored that the military authorities had maintained the referendum despite the natural disaster. The referendum was also noted not to be in keeping with democratic principles. The recent progress in granting visas and travelling authorisations to humanitarian workers were welcome. Switzerland called for further full and unimpeded access. Switzerland also called for the immediate release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and for an in-depth inquiry in the events of September 2007.

DICKY KOMAR (Indonesia) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his follow-up report as mandated by resolution Council's 7/31. Indonesia noted the way in which he carried out his mandate immediately upon taking up his duty, the difficult situation and for producing his report in a very short time. They also thanked the Government of Myanmar for its determination to hold a national referendum on 10 May to endorse the new Constitution as one of the steps under the Road Map to Democracy. Further actions and hard work were still needed to implement the Road Map to Democracy. In the face of an appalling death toll and thousands of casualties caused by the cyclone, Indonesia believed that the Government of Myanmar would continue to heed the plight of the victims and to fulfil its obligations with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights of the population. The Government of Indonesia would continue to show solidarity and to offer their support and assistance to the Government and people of Myanmar in facing the present crisis.

SIMIA AHMADI, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, said it remained concerned about the systematic suspension of human rights in Myanmar. It raised concerns about the referendum process and results. Despite the enormous need of more than 2 million people, the regime blocked international humanitarian assistance. The Federation called on the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution calling on the Government to allow the Special Rapporteur to enter the country, condemning the mismanagement by Government of the response to Cyclone Nargis, and condemning the referendum process and its result. The resolution should have concrete benchmarks. It should call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. It should also call on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the actions of the Government of Myanmar and invoking the responsibility to protect.

NORMAN VOSS, of the Asian League Resource Centre, said that the details of the grave situation in Myanmar were well known by the Council. International relief efforts had been prevented by the Government. People had been put in custody for providing help to victims. Relief vehicles had been stopped and confiscated. It had been reported that fake victims had been paid during the Secretary-General visit. In one instance, instead of providing medical help to victims, the police had fired on unhappy victims.

JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, said that instead of focusing efforts on ensuring that humanitarian aid reached the population, the Government of Myanmar had pushed ahead with a constitutional referendum widely condemned by the international community as a sham, and extended opposition leader Aung San Sun Kyi's arbitrary detention by another year. In the past week a documented forced relocation of hundreds if not thousands of displaced persons from their temporary shelters to their destroyed villages in the delta had taken place. Bureaucratic red tape was still hampering some relief efforts when the Government should be accepting all aid immediately and unconditionally.

The Representative of Amnesty International, said the current situation in Myanmar was taking place against a backdrop of human rights violations. Myanmar continued to ignore the Human Rights Council. Government officials had continued to block or divert aid. The Constitution process employed by the Government lacked transparency and the Constitution flouted international standards. The Government continued to wage combat in areas of Myanmar and had committed crimes against humanity. Amnesty International called on the Human Rights Council to condemn Myanmar's failure to implement United Nations recommendations. It urged the Council to comprehensively address the human rights violation in Myanmar. It also called on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that called on the Government of Myanmar to fully comply with the United Nations.

WAHYUNTUGRUM, of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), in a joint statement with International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development; Ain O Salish Kendro (Ask) Law and Mediation Centre; and Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, expressed their appreciation for the Council and its continuous efforts in addressing the situation in Myanmar. The non-compliance and total disregard by the Government of United Nations resolutions was condemned. The Special Rapporteur's recommendations were supported. The extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest was not seen as a move in the right direction. Despite the devastation after Cyclone Nargis, the Government had moved forward with the referendum. Intimidation by military forces had been reported at voting places. The Government was called to release a public report on the conduct of the poll.

Information media; not an official record

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