Cambodia


Hey everybody!

It’s been more than a month since…

I’ve gotten back from Cambodia.

I was basking in fun under the sun at Burning Man 2010.

I started my 2nd year at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

I’ve posted a blog on Asi es la vida.

It’s time to start writing again.

Yup. So here I am;

Ready….. begin!

In addition to irregular posts at Asi es la vida, I will now also begin irregularly blogging forThe Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Fletcher has several blogs. This summer I posted a few on “Fletcher Reflections” and I’ve since joined the “Year in the Life of….” [insert name of Fletcher student] crew of bloggers.

Here’s the first post of the (school) year…

View from a room with a view

So. Why? You might ask, did I decide I wanted to blog for The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy?

I like to think, try out, and process things out loud and with other people

I want to “work on my writing” (lifelong process people)

I wanted another (fun) form of procrastination

I have so many interesting things to tell you! (Uhhhm, you be the judge)

I really and truly love The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the experiences that it brings

I thought I might learn something new in the process

On the other hand, I didn’t start blogging for Fletcher because…

I get paid to do it and needed (another) job

I actually think you’re going to read my posts all the way through

I wanted to become famous or have future employers judge me by my blogging

I think I have spare time to read, write, rewrite, edit and perfect my posts

Now that we are clear, I’ve said it once and will say it again: If you have to come back to anywhere from an awesome, fun-filled summer, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is a fantastic place to land! It’s been wonderful being back. Everybody talks about the community at Fletcher and they are not exaggerating. The people, the places, the comeraderie, and most of all, the fun (!) that can be had while pursuing a degree in the field of international affairs, law, and diplomacy. Now that I’m settled and nestling back in, I’ll be bringing you up-to-speed on the pulse of a(nother) year in the life of… Me.

Talk to you soon ya’ll.

Drinking my laast mango-pomegranate-orange tango shake and sipping a long black before heading state-side later this morning! Here’s the last Cambodge news round-up for the summer!

‘Bold plan’ for Mekong area rail link approved

By: Ian Timberlake in AFP, August 21, 2010

A “bold” plan for a railway system connecting more than 300 million people who live around one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong, was approved Friday, officials said. Ministers from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam adopted the plan which they called “a significant first step toward the development of an integrated… railway system”.

"Sea of Trees" in Mondulkiri

Stronger wildlife laws needed, officials say

By: Chhay Channyda in Phnom Penh Post, August 19, 2010

NEW laws and harsher penalties are needed to prosecute people who trade in illegal wildlife, government officials said yesterday. Speaking at the opening of a two-day regional anti-wildlife trafficking workshop in Phnom Penh, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said that a lack of concrete wildlife management legislation combined with weak penalties for illegal traders meant there was little to deter would-be perpetrators.

Cellphones help Cambodian students — to cheat

By: Dara Saoyuth, AFP, August 19, 2010

Standing in front of a school in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, Than Vichea read out answers over his mobile telephone to his sister who was taking national exams inside. He was not alone. Even the police deployed outside schools to stop relatives providing answers to the more than 100,000 students who sat the tests last month could not prevent cheating in many of the exam centres.

Commodities Pork sales decline over blue-ear fear

By: Jimmy Ellingham and Veng Rachana in Phnom Penh Post, August 16, 2010

PHNOM Penh pork vendors are selling up to two-thirds less meat than usual, as consumers continue to stay home due to concerns about blue-ear disease in pigs. Government officials have warned there is a risk people could suffer severe diarrhoea if they eat infected meat that has not been cooked properly, although a United Nations official has said the disease could not be contracted by humans.

Cambodian Woman Faces Prison in Land Grabbing Case

By: Mu Sochua, August 16, 2010

Mu Sochua took part today, Monday 16th August, in a Press Conference organized in the context of a recent land dispute case (in Kompong Thom Province – see full case description in previous post). Local representative, Lem Nath, has been physically abused and thrown into prison for stepping up in the case of local land grabbing.


The beat goes on … and on

By: Phnom Penh Post, August 13, 2010

The musical aspect, the cello playing, is minimal. It simply intersperses an emotive, and at times slightly paranoid, spiel by the good doctor, mainly to raise funds, but also to pay out on all those he has deemed as attempting to stand in his troubled way, trapped as he is by his own unappreciated philanthropy.

Littering law cleans up

By: Chhay Channyda, August 13, 2010

CITY Hall has collected more than 9 million riels (US$2,148) in fines since a crackdown on littering began in May, an official said yesterday. Chiek Ang, director of the municipal Environment Department, said most of the fees, collected between May 1 and July 31, had been paid by people caught littering in marketplaces.

Rice Fields in Central Cambodia

Climate yields rice concerns

By: Jerermy Mullins and Sun Mesa in Phnom Penh Post, August 11, 2010

TROPICAL Asia’s rice yields are at risk because of climate change, as evidence suggests higher temperatures have already cut growth rates as much as 20 percent in some areas, according the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Facing history in Cambodia

By Akshan deAlwis in Boston Globe, August 10, 2010

Akshan deAlwis will be a freshman at Noble and Greenough School in the fall.

I was nine when I read “First They Killed my Father.” It had a profound impact on me and I wanted to learn more about both the glory that was the Khmer civilization and its more recent history of conflict.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

Battambang demonstrators get bussed out of town

By: May Titthara in Phnom Penh Post, August 9, 2010

UNICIPAL and Daun Penh district police yesterday forcibly broke up a demonstration near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh home by villagers from Battambang province, loading them onto a bus out of town in a move that drew swift condemnation from rights workers.

Cambodia marches away from its troubled past

By: The National News Paper, August 7, 2010

This year the Cambodian economy is expected to grow by just 5 per cent, but for most of the past decade the economy has registered an annual growth rate of about 10 per cent – an almost China-style growth story that the world press has largely ignored. Given this economic background, outsiders should not regard the Cambodia Stock Exchange as some sort of vanity project. If it opens and succeeds it can serve as another avenue for attracting foreign capital to a country desperately in need of development funds.

Government Can Help in Tribunal Reconciliation

By: Sok Khemara in VOA Khmer, August 6, 2010

Compensation for victims of the Khmer Rouge is in part a responsibility of the government, a tribunal monitor said Thursday. “Because the state has an obligation to take responsibility for all kinds of people’s suffering,” said Lat Ky, a court monitor for the rights group Adhoc, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

"Sea of Trees" Mondulkiri, Cambodia

Traveling through Mondulkiri province in the northern highlands of Cambodia earlier this month, I found myself on the top of a hillside, taking in deep breaths of crisp fresh air, and enjoying the peaceful view onto the “sea of trees”. But somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking about the terrible stories I’ve heard about deforestation in Cambodia and couldn’t help wondering if this was an anomaly, or how long these trees would be there?

Cambodia is ranked the 3rd worst country for deforestation rates in the world.  I’ve heard people in Phnom Penh say, where you would once find vast forests in the northern regions of the country, there are now long stretches of green plains, hills, and farmland.

Cropland in Mondulkiri

The causes of deforestation have evolved with the changing political and economic climate in Cambodia, with timber sales funding the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent wars, in addition to local needs for additional cropland and daily supplies of firewood for cooking.  According to the World Wildlife Organization, “the Lower Mekong Dry Forests once blanketed north-eastern Thailand, southern Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam but a majority has been cleared for farming.”

More than 80 percent of Cambodia’s population lives in the countryside and depends on subsistence farming. “[Today] the main cause of the loss of forest is the increase in the population” said Deputy Governor Leng Vuth in a 2010 UNDP report, “we now have 70,000 residents compared to 10,000 – a seven-fold increase in a 10-year period.”

Our tourist guide's home

While visiting Mondulkiri, I asked a tour guide familiar with the region whether he kew if the forests were being protected or not.  He said there are now vast stretches of land where it is prohibited for people to cut down certain species of trees. He pointed to a checkpoint as we passed one alongside the road and said, “that’s where police stop cars and trucks to make sure they do not have any of the illegal [kinds of] lumber in their cargo.” “And if they do?” I asked. “If they do find that expensive kind of [prohibited] tree, you will have to pay,” he said, uttering expletives about government corruption, he continued, “so you still can cut down the illegal kinds [of lumber] but you will have to pay [the police].”

According to a recent article in the Phnom Penh Post, illegal logging continues despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s efforts to make clear he would no longer tolerate military involvement in the facilitation of illegal logging. His announcement of a crackdown on all illegal logging has been largely ignored as a lack of enforcement, local official’s involvement in it, their implicit impunity, and a back-log of legal cases that would hold individuals accountable for illegal logging, all seem to contribute to a continuation of the status quo. It is clear that the current laws alone are not enough to halt natural resource destruction in the Cambodia’s forests.

International organizations including the WWF are working in the Mondulkiri and neighboring northeastern provinces where most of the wildlife crimes take place to help enforce the environmental protection in the region.  One of the guides  told us that teams from these international organizations spend weeks camped out in protected areas sleeping in hammocks deep in the forest in order to investigate suspected violations of the regulations.  As is often the case with enforcing national laws at the local level, the central government lacks presence and sometimes access to the region, and so international organizations work to fill the gap. When I asked what role the local government plays in protecting the forests he said, “the local government… we do not know. We do not know their plan.”

The Phnom Penh Post reported last week that courts have announced a resolution in the defamation case against Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua brought about by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The fine Ms. Sochua has refused to pay will be deducted from her monthly salary. The decision brings to a close the long political battle between the Prime Minister and Mu Sochua who has called the legal process “unclear” throughout.  In reaction to the announcement by the courts last week she replied, “this injustice makes me want to continue my politics.”

Sochua fine to be docked from pay

By: Meas Sokchea in Phnom Penh Post, August 12, 2010

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Photo by: Pha Lina

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua speaks to reporters at the Supreme Court after her defamation conviction was upheld in June.

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court has authorised the National Assembly to withhold Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua’s salary to pay an 8.5 million-riel (US$2,023) fine levied against her for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In a citation dated Tuesday and signed by Judge Chea Sok Heang, the court said the parliament’s financial department would withhold her monthly salary of 4,204,899 riels until the full amount was recovered. It said the docking of her pay did not require her consent.

“Mu Sochua must not block or prohibit an official in charge of salaries at the financial department of the parliament from seizing the debt. The president of the financial department of the parliament must carry out the above decision,” the citation read.

In July last year, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Mu Sochua of defaming Hun Sen after she filed her own defamation lawsuit against him. The conviction has been upheld on two appeals since.

Last month, the court authorised parliament to withhold an additional 8 million riels in compensation that she owed the premier.

When contacted yesterday, Mu Sochua said she had never agreed to pay the fine, and that docking it from her salary was a violation of her rights.
“This court system is an unclear system and it is a political tool,” she said.

She described the docking of her pay as a form of “force” and “intimidation”, but said she would live to fight another day.

“My political life will be alive until the end of my life. This injustice makes me want to continue my politics,” she said.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the Cambodian People’s Party, said he had not seen the court citation, but that Mu Sochua’s pay would be docked once the parliament’s Permanent Committee met to approve the decision.

Cambodia to sign cooperation deal with Iran on oil

By: Reuters, August 6, 2010

Officials from Cambodia are to travel to Iran next week and the two countries will sign agreements covering cooperation in the oil sector, the foreign minister of the Southeast Asian state said on Friday.

‘Trafficked’ woman returns home

By: Phnom Penh Post, August 6, 2010

AN 18-year-old ethnic Tampuon woman from Ratanakkiri province returned home last week after neighbours allegedly took her to the capital for job training without her family’s permission. However, the woman, Leith Dauth, said yesterday that she had volunteered to go to Phnom Penh, and only decided to return to Ratanakkiri after learning that her parents disapproved of her plan to go work in Malaysia.

Photo by: Janos Kis

City police seize motorbikes

By: Tang Khyhay and Cameron Wells in Phnom Penh Post, August 3, 2010

TRAFFIC police in the capital have resumed seizing the motorbikes of helmetless drivers and those who lack side mirrors, despite the fact that the Land Traffic Law does not list vehicle confiscation as a possible punishment for such offences.

Cambodia reports 88 lightning deaths

By: TMC, August 5, 2010

Cambodian government said Thursday that 88 people, mostly in rural areas — have died of lightning strikes. Keo Vy, communication officer of National Committee of Disaster Management said that by the end of July, there were 88 people have died in lightning strikes. However, he said, the figure is still less than that in the same period last year as 110 died of lightning incidents.

Forestry, fisheries crimes lost in red tape: minister

By: Khouth Sophakchakrya in Phnom Penh Post, August 3, 2010

AGRICULTURE Minister Chan Sarun has accused courts of dragging their feet on forestry, agriculture and fisheries crimes, claiming 70 percent nationwide have not been to trial. In remarks delivered to Forestry Administration workers in Phnom Penh, a copy of which was obtained yesterday, Chan Sarun attributed the backlog to “a lack of cooperation”.

Jailed journalist reports graft

By: Chhay Channyda in Phnom Penh Post, August 3, 2010

A JAILED journalist whose Appeal Court hearing is scheduled for later this month said yesterday that he had been asked to pay US$1,000 before court officials would tell him the exact date.

Cambodia’s Struggle With Globalization

By:  Hal Hill, Jayant Menon & Chan Sopha in The Jakarta Globe, August 2, 2010

The charming riverside capital of Phnom Penh, home to about 1.5 million inhabitants, has seen a lot in its turbulent history. But arguably nothing is on the scale of its first skyscraper, the 42-floor Gold Tower now nearing completion, not to mention the university and bank complexes mushrooming throughout this ancient city.

Dam projects threaten giants of the Mekong: Conservationists

By: Ian MacKinnon, The Daily Telegraph, July 28, 2010

The survival of some of the world’s largest freshwater fish, including a giant catfish, is threatened by a series of hydroelectric dams planned for the Mekong River, a leading environmental group has warned. The construction of a particular dam in northern Laos would disrupt the migration of four of the world’s 10 largest freshwater species to crucial spawning grounds, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said.

Ask Cambodian Workers: What Good Has ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Done?

By: Jeff Ballinger, In These Times, July 26, 2010

Tens of thousands of workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh have protested numerous times over the last ten weeks, due to expected national minimum wage adjustments (which are behind schedule); their wages are never raised through the dignified means of collective bargaining. Look back to 1998 when a prominent FLA member (Patagonia’s Kevin Sweeney) wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “We Can Work Up To a Living Wage.” So, what’s happened over the past dozen years?

From the Killing Fields, on a Mission of Truth

By: Stephen Holden, New York Times, July 29, 2010

“Enemies of the People” is another disquieting testament to the fact that ordinary individuals under extreme pressure will carry out the most monstrous crimes. If they hadn’t followed the orders of superiors, they say, they themselves would have been killed. One farmer, a Buddhist who believes in reincarnation, expresses his tormented certainty that it will be many lifetimes before he returns in human form.

CNN Hero Aki Ra Disarms Land Mines In Cambodia He Placed Decades Earlier

By: Huffington Post, July 30, 2010

Aki Ra, leader of the nonprofit Cambodian Self Help Demining team, works to make his country more safe by clearing land mines on a daily basis. He estimates that he and his team have cleared more than 50,000 land mines — some of which he planted himself.

Cocktails with Khmer Rouge killers

By: Angus MacSwan, Reuters, July 30, 2010

The sentencing of Khmer Rouge torturer Kaing Guek Eav this week and the forthcoming trial of former leader Khieu Samphan by a United Nations-backed court has brought renewed attention to their murderous rule of Cambodia in the 1970s — and a certain amount of satisfaction in the “international community” for its role in seeing justice done.


Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Cambodia hit the international news circuit this week with the announcement of a verdict in the first case before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of  Cambodia (ECCC or “E triple C”) convicting Kaing Guek Eav (alias “Duch”), head of the infamous S-21 Toul Slang prison, of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentencing him to 35 years in prison.  The sentence received mixed reactions from Cambodians and the international community, ranging from pride for completing the trial to outrage for the leniency and omission of certain victims’ claims.  Still others believe it is too late for “justice”, the accused are old, well-fed in prison, and even if found guilty they will hardly be punished, and argue the money could be better spent invested in the people of Cambodia today.

Interrogation Room at the Toul Sleng Prison, Phnom Penh

What is the ECCC?

The ECCC is one of several international criminal tribunals established for the purpose of trying individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide within the countries where those atrocities took place. Similar courts were established in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, East Timor, and Sierra Leone. These courts have been established in one of three ways: 1) by coercion through the Security Council (ICTY & ICTR) 2) by consent with a host government (ECCC), or 3) as part of a transitional administration (East Timor & Kosovo).

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is a hybrid court system established in an agreement between the Cambodian government and the United Nations. It is a Cambodian Court, established through the domestic court system (rather than by UN resolution or treaty under the Rome Statute). It follows international legal standards  and is considered “extraordinary”  in that it applies not only the Cambodian Criminal Code (e.g. murder, torture, religious persecution) but also International Laws (e.g. genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes) as well.

The court is comprised of 3 Cambodian lawyers and 2 International (UN-appointed) lawyers,  4 Cambodian and 3 internationally-appointed judges, and business is conducted in Khmer, English, and French.  It is the first international tribunal using a Civil Law legal system.

The hybrid courts of the ECCC took many years of negotiation between the Cambodian government and the United Nations to establish and have received plenty of criticism along the way.  Most notably for their failure to contain (perceived) outside political interference by the ruling party, and inability to address conflicts of opinion and judgment between the Cambodian and International representatives of the court. In the most recent incident, in response to the International Investigating Judge’s pressure to decide,  the Cambodian Investigating Judge signed and then later crossed-out his rugatory signature endorsing the investigations into additional Khmer Rouge Trial cases known as 003 and 004. These cases are believed by some to involve charges against officials connected to members of the current ruling party and thus are politically unpopular. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been public with his view against further investigations for fear they could lead to political instability or even internal war.

Transitional Justice

Nevertheless there is a lot to be said in favor of the ECCC, not only for their role in holding individuals accountable for the heinous crimes they allegedly committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. The courts, in conjunction with Cambodian NGOs, have worked to incorporate Cambodian people into the process of the courts.  When the trials first began there were over 31,000 people who wanted to be a part of the process by attending the trial. They organized busses from the provinces and they now do even more outreach to villages and schools, offering tours of the Toul Slang Museum and the ECCC premises free of charge.

In addition, many people believe the ECCC court sets an important example for accountability and the rule of law, with hopes that by holding the courts to international legal standards and practices, they may be helping to pave some of the road in Cambodia’s transitional justice process as well.

In fact just days before the announcement of a verdict in Duch’s case, the Cambodian government allowed the first public screening of “Enemies of the People”, a film with incredible footage of intimate interviews with individuals in charge of mass killings in the countryside, and some of the most senior Khmer Rouge officials, including Nua Chau aka “Brother Two” who worked side by side with Pol Pot in leading the regime during the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979.

Filmmaker Thet Sambath

In a post-screening discussion with filmmakers,  Thet Sambath and British documentarian Rob Lemkin, I began to think about other methods of healing and transformation that might be important for Cambodia as a nation, as a people, and for individuals alone to overcome the tragedies that took place during the Khmer Rouge.  It became apparent that the film, in its ability to illuminate truths that have so long been denied by those in the Khmer Rouge regime, and its screening in Cambodian communities around the world, could be one important step in that transformation.

For all of its challenges along the way, it seems at least for some, the ECCC is certainly another one of those steps in that process as well.

First off… Happy Birthday to my wonderful Papa Dan! Biggest news of the day in my sphere is my dad turning an impressive 65 today! Wisdom speaks louder than words and his will continue always to echo in my ears.

As many of you have seen, the international news from the Cambodia front has been the announcement of (alias) Duch’s judgement at the EC on Monday. I’ve included a few items and hope to post something myself later this week. Until then, here are some news stories from this past week!

Photo by: Pha Lina

Exam monitors ‘take money’

By: Khouth Sophakchakrya, July 28, 2010

THE head of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association yesterday accused officials in Kandal province of ordering teachers administering Grade 12 national exams to take money from students, part of what he described as worsening corruption surrounding the three-day tests.

Convicted Khmer Rouge prison chief to appeal: lawyer

By Suy Se in AFP, July 27, 2010

Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch will appeal against his conviction by Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes tribunal, which sentenced him to 30 years in jail, his defence lawyer said Tuesday. Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the court on Monday in a ruling that has been hailed as a “historic milestone” in tackling impunity in the country.

Cambodian women rally behind condemned opposition MP Mu Sochua

By: Observers, July 27, 2010

Mu Sochua, a female MP of Cambodia’s opposition Sam Rainsy Party, faces jail for refusing to pay 4,000 dollars in fines and compensation on a conviction last year for allegedly defaming prime minister Hun Sen. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the proceedings against her an example of the “alarming erosion” of Cambodia’s free speech and judicial independence.

Photo by: Chor Sokunthea

Cambodian garment workers clash with police

By Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, July 27, 2010

At least nine female garment workers were injured on Tuesday in clashes with Cambodian riot police who used shields and electric shock batons to try to end a week-long strike over the suspension of a local union official.

Press Release: Kaing Guek Eav Convicted of Crimes Against Humanity and Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949

By: ECCC, July 26, 2010

The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) today found KAING Guek Eav alias Duch guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and sentenced him to 35 (thirty-five) years of imprisonment.

Duch gets 35 (- 5) years

By: IntLawGrrls, July 26, 2010

So says the presiding judge of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, in Khmer, in this 10-minute video clip of today’s verdict against Kaing Guek Eav (alias Duch), about whose trial we’ve blogged here. The 67-year-old Duch, stoic during the reading of the verdict, was convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, and torture, and sentenced to “35 years in prison — with five years taken off that sentence for time served.”

Cambodia: The Official Launch of the First Online Human Rights Portal

By: Sopheap Chak in Global Voices Online, July 26, 2010

Sithi.org, a Cambodian human rights portal that aims to crowdsource and curate reports of human rights violations, officially launched on July 22, 2010 with participation from various institutions including embassies, international and local NGOs, media and university representatives. Over the past year, the site has developed rapidly. A number of reports of human rights violations, relevant legal instruments and publications have been made available on the site.

Irish photographer recalls day he found KRouge torturer

By: AFP, July 24, 2010

In March 1999 an old man wandered up to an Irish photographer on his day off in a village in Cambodia. It was Duch, the torture chief of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime who many assumed was long dead.

Cambodian Ruling Party’s Plenum Reaffirms Hun Sen for PM Post in Next Terms

By: CRI English, July 22, 2010

The Cambodia’s ruling party — the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on Thursday reaffirmed at it plenum Hun Sen’s candidate for prime minister post for the next terms. “The plenum reaffirms its endorsement of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen’s candidacy for the post of prime minister for the next terms,” announced the party’s communique released at the ending of the 35th Plenum of the Fifth-Term Central Committee of the CPP.

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