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Posts tagged ‘Twin Niles of South Sudan’

South Sudan’s opposition leader warns of return to civil war

October 20, 2019

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s opposition leader Riek Machar warned Sunday that the country could return to civil war if a coalition government is formed by a Nov. 12 deadline and he asked for another months-long delay for the crucial step in a fragile peace deal.

Machar made an impassioned plea to a visiting United Nations Security Council delegation that met with him and President Salva Kiir to urge speedier progress in pulling the country out of a five-year civil war that killed almost 400,000 people.

“Suppose we form a government on the 12th, you know what’s going to happen? The ceasefire we’ve been enjoying for over a year will erupt,” said the visiting Machar, whose opposition has said he won’t return to South Sudan for good until security arrangements are in place.

The previous attempt at Kiir and Machar sharing power ended in renewed fighting and Machar fleeing the country on foot in 2016. The issues being discussed today are the same ones that led to that earlier failure, the opposition leader said.

But the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, said the council was “disappointed” by Machar’s warnings. The U.S. has said it would reevaluate its relationship with South Sudan if next month’s deadline isn’t met.

The Security Council still wants the Nov. 12 deadline met, South Sudan government spokesman Michael Makuei said: “No change of schedule nor change of program.” The opposition, however, now wants a three-month delay, Makuei said.

One key outstanding issue is security. Machar and Kiir were told Sunday that it would take at least three months to train at least 41,500 fighters and troops into a unified national army along with a 3,000-member VIP protection force.

South Sudan’s government has said the international community should help fund that process. The Security Council “is of the view that nothing is impossible, nothing is unsurmountable,” said South Africa’s ambassador to the U.N., Jerry Matthews Matjila. The remaining issues can be discussed by an inclusive government, he said.

One South Sudan expert said the international community is making a mistake. “The U.N. Security Council took the wrong approach today,” Alan Boswell, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told The Associated Press.

“Rather than fixate on Nov. 12, everyone should be focused on pressuring the parties to resolve the issues necessary to form a viable government at less risk of collapse,” he said. “There are much worse scenarios than another delay.”

Another expert suggested a different approach. South Sudan’s government “has consistently acted in bad faith,” said Klem Ryan, former coordinator of the Security Council’s panel of experts monitoring sanctions against South Sudan. “They need to be treated as illegitimate through increased international isolation by the diplomatic community until such time as they show a genuine desire to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan.”

The world’s youngest nation erupted in civil war just two years after winning independence from Sudan as Kiir and his deputy, Machar, clashed and their supporters took up arms. Millions have since been displaced and the oil-rich country’s economy has been shattered.

Recruitment of new soldiers threatens South Sudan’s peace

February 21, 2019

YAMBIO, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s rival armed groups are forcefully recruiting civilians, including child soldiers, violating a fragile peace deal signed five months ago. The evidence from numerous accounts that opposing sides are adding fighters to their ranks is a worrying sign that threatens the country’s peace, say officials.

In Yambio, near the border with Congo, all sides met recently to try to resolve their differences and strengthen the peace agreement. However, the meeting quickly turned tense as the government and opposition accused each other of recruiting new fighters, including child soldiers. The meeting highlighted the need for all fighters to be integrated into a single, unified national army, said observers.

The reports of new recruitment come from all sides. In Twic state 1,200 men were forced into the government army, according to a letter sent from community leaders to the governor in January and seen by The Associated Press.

In Upper Nile state opposition-leader Riek Machar is recruiting troops to “balance his number of forces with the government,” said a high-ranking opposition member who spoke with Machar and who insisted on anonymity for his safety.

And in Western Equatoria state, another group, the National Salvation Front, is allegedly recruiting former combatants pushing them to take up arms again or hand over their weapons if they refuse, said Johnson Niwamanya, team leader for the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism, the body charged with documenting violations and overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement.

South Sudan is slowly emerging from the five-year civil war that killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions. A peace deal signed on September 12 in neighboring Sudan has been marked by delays, missed deadlines and violations.

The latest wave of recruitment shows the fragility of the peace, as all sides are boosting the size of their forces, said an expert. “In South Sudan, manpower is political power. Politicians use peace deals to grow their own armed ranks,” said Alan Boswell senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Officially, the government and both opposition parties deny that any recruitment is taking place. “We are not expecting war for us to recruit,” said the government’s deputy army spokesman Santo Domic Chol.

In addition are accusations of the continued use of child soldiers. An estimated 19,000 children are associated with armed groups in South Sudan, according to the U.N., giving the country one of the highest numbers of child soldiers in the world.

James Nando, an opposition commander in Western Equatoria who is accused of having child soldiers, told AP that he is merely caring for “orphans.” While the parties say they are committed to peace, fighting continues across South Sudan, especially in the hard-hit Equatoria region.

Last week the United Nations refugee agency said 13,000 people had fled renewed violence in parts of the country after clashes erupted at the end of January between South Sudan’s army and the rebel group, the National Salvation Front.

Speaking to the parties in Yambio, chairman of the ceasefire-monitoring group Desta Abiche urged both sides to speed implementation of the peace deal. By May, opposition leader Machar is supposed to return to the country to once again serve as First Vice President and all armed groups are expected to be separately housed, then trained and unified into one national army. So far there are no barracks where the forces are meant to be housed.

“We need to kick everything up because of time,” said Abiche to both sides. “There are three months left to take full responsibility. Peace is possible because it’s you who can make peace,” but he warned: “It is also you who can cause the peace to fail.”

South Sudan judge finds 10 troops guilty of violent rampage

September 06, 2018

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — A military judge in South Sudan on Thursday found 10 soldiers guilty of rape and murder in a violent rampage two years ago. Brigadier General Knight Briano found two guilty of involvement in the murder of a South Sudanese journalist and sentenced them to life in prison. The judge found three other soldiers guilty of raping foreign aid workers, four guilty of sexual harassment and one guilty of theft and armed robbery. They have been sentenced to between seven and 14 years in jail.

One of the 11 soldiers charges was acquitted for lack of evidence. A twelfth soldier charged died while in jail during the trial. The judgment was delivered in a military courtroom filled with diplomats, aid workers and officials.

The charges stem from the attacks in the Terrain Hotel in Juba in 2016, when dozens of soldiers broke into the compound, killed a local journalist and gang-raped five international aid workers while U.N. peacekeepers nearby did not respond to pleas for help.

The soldiers found guilty were stripped of their uniforms before being transported by truck to prison.

1 million South Sudan refugees now in Uganda, UN says

August 17, 2017

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The number of South Sudanese refugees sheltering in Uganda has reached 1 million, the United Nations said Thursday, a grim milestone for what has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

Ugandan officials say they are overwhelmed by the flow of people fleeing South Sudan’s civil war and the U.N. refugee agency urges the international community to donate more for humanitarian assistance.

An average of 1,800 South Sudanese citizens have been arriving daily in Uganda over the past 12 months, the UNHCR said in a statement. Another one million or more South Sudanese are sheltering in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo and Central African Republic.

The number of people fleeing jumped after deadly fighting again erupted in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, in July 2016. “Recent arrivals continue to speak of barbaric violence, with armed groups reportedly burning down houses with civilians inside, people being killed in front of family members, sexual assaults of women and girls and kidnapping of boys for forced conscription,” the statement said.

“With refugees still arriving in their thousands, the amount of aid we are able to deliver is increasingly falling short.” A fundraising summit hosted by Uganda in June raised only a fraction of the $2 billion that Ugandan officials have said is needed to sufficiently look after the refugees and the communities hosting them.

Most of the refugees are women and children fleeing violence, often along ethnic lines, since the world’s newest country erupted into violence in December 2013. Ugandan refugee officials have repeatedly warned the influx is straining the country’s ability to be generous to the refugees, who often are given small plots of land for building temporary shelters and planting crops when they arrive.

The largest of the settlements hosting refugees from South Sudan, Bidi Bidi, is roughly 230 square kilometers (88.8 sq. miles). The World Food Program cut food rations for some refugees amid funding shortages in June.

The U.N. says at least $674 million is needed to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda this year, although only a fifth of that amount has been received. The money is needed to provide basic services, including stocking clinics with medicines and putting up schools. Aid agencies say classroom sizes in the few available schools often exceed 200 pupils, and other children have dropped out because the nearest schools are located miles away.

“The funding shortfall in Uganda is now significantly impacting the abilities to deliver life-saving aid and key basic services,” the UNHCR statement said. Fighting persists in parts of South Sudan despite multiple cease-fire agreements. Rebel forces said Tuesday they had reclaimed their stronghold of Pagak in the northeast, less than a week after being pushed out by government forces.

Both sides have committed serious rights violations, including murder and rape, against civilians, according to U.N. investigators.

New report blames South Sudan military for civilian deaths

June 21, 2017

ABUROC, South Sudan (AP) — Albin Koolekheh watched his 4-year-old son die in his arms. He and his family were among tens of thousands of people who escaped a wave of fighting in South Sudan’s civil war, only to find themselves living in a filthy camp near the border with Sudan.

A new report by Amnesty International says South Sudanese forces burned, shelled and ransacked homes between January and May, killing civilians and forcing thousands like Koolekheh from the Shilluk ethnic minority to flee.

“Even considering South Sudan’s history of ethnic hostility,” the mass displacement was shocking, the report says. As South Sudan faces its fourth year of civil war, the fighting shows no signs of ending. Both government and opposition forces have been accused of war crimes including mass rape and targeted killings, while the United Nations warns of ethnic violence. While the focus has been on ethnic tensions between the Dinka of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer of rebel leader Riek Machar, the new report highlights the threat to others caught in the crossfire.

When government troops attacked his hometown of Wau Shilluk in January, Koolekheh grabbed his wife and three children and left. After a day of walking through the bush, his youngest son fell sick. With no food or water, the boy died on the side of the road.

“Bullets, guns, screaming, it was everywhere,” the weary 32-year-old father told The Associated Press this week. “This violence is known to the world. But what is everyone doing about it?” Now Koolekheh crouches on the dirt floor in the back room of a small shop, scrubbing metal bowls with a rag, his eyes fixed on the floor.

He and his family are sheltering in Aburoc, an ad hoc displaced person’s camp. At the peak of the fighting, 25,000 people were living in this bleak shantytown. Now roughly 10,000 remain, the rest gone to Sudan or nearby villages.

Makeshift houses with plastic roofs are scattered across muddy fields. Food is scarce and disease is rife. A cholera outbreak threatened the population in May. Yet many have no choice but to call this town home. This is their third or fourth attempt at finding refuge in less than six months after being uprooted over and over by violence.

Satellite imagery collected by Amnesty International shows the destruction of homes and other civilian buildings, including a temple, in the central areas of Wau Shilluk. The group’s report says government troops often deliberately killed civilians, shooting them in the back when they tried to flee.

“These accounts are unfounded,” said a South Sudan military spokesman, Col. Santo Domic Chol. He said it isn’t within the military’s mandate to kill civilians and chase them from their homes. Yet stories abound of families fleeing for their lives.

When government forces attacked the nearby opposition-held town of Kodok three months ago, Victoria Adhong said she fled and will never go back. Although Aburoc is currently peaceful, Adhong, the acting governor of Fashoda state, said it’s hard to feel safe when the “enemy’s next door.”

Another of the displaced, Elizabeth Adwok, said she fled Kodok with her seven children amid gunfire. They arrived in Aburoc in April and have struggled to find food, with little in the market and prices high.

“We’re not here because we like it,” Adwok said. “But we have nothing.” The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few organizations with a presence in Aburoc, warned that with the onset of the rainy season things will only get worse.

“Access to food, water and health care is extremely limited,” said Matthieu Desselas, head of the office in Kodok. But for the thousands of civilians already so far from their homes, this town is their last hope.

“It’s the only place left for me in South Sudan,” Koolekheh said. “I’ll stay here until there’s peace.”

South Sudan soldiers face trial for deadly hotel rampage

May 30, 2017

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudanese soldiers accused of a horrific attack on foreign aid workers during the country’s civil war are facing trial almost a year later, with the possibility of a death sentence.

Twelve of the 20 soldiers accused of rape, torture, killing and looting during the attack on the Terrain hotel compound were in court Tuesday. The assault came during fresh fighting in the capital, Juba, in July.

An investigation by The Associated Press last year showed that dozens of soldiers broke into the compound and terrorized residents and staff while the nearby United Nations peacekeeping mission did not respond to pleas for help. Five foreigners reported being gang-raped, and one local journalist was shot in the head and killed as others were forced to watch.

The U.N. secretary-general later fired the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission over its response to the attacks on the hotel compound and elsewhere. The trial is a test of South Sudan’s ability to hold its soldiers accountable. It is expected to last several weeks, with the next court date scheduled for June 6.

If convicted of rape, the soldiers could face up to 14 years in prison. If convicted of murder, they could be sentenced to death. It was not immediately clear how the soldiers would plead. The prosecution said it “absolutely” has the necessary evidence to convict the accused, citing testimony from witnesses and victims including an American man who was shot in the leg.

“We expect the same as from any normal trial,” said Michael Woodward, the British former manager of the Terrain and the only witness to testify Tuesday. “We want justice for the victims, compensation for what was looted and we want this to serve as an example for people who commit similar crimes.”

South Sudan’s military marked the start of the trial by announcing it is committed to “human rights, the rule of law and the transparency of the legal system.” The start of the trial comes shortly after a new U.N report that exposed potential war crimes by the army in soldiers’ targeting and killing of dozens of South Sudanese civilians. The international community has repeatedly expressed concern about impunity for widespread abuses in the civil war, which is well into its fourth year and has left tens of thousands dead.

‘I cannot go back’: South Sudan refugee clan begins new life

April 28, 2017

IMVEPI, Uganda (AP) — Eighty-year-old Alfred Wani walks across the wooden bridge over the Kaya River, the border between South Sudan and Uganda, clinging to his Bibles and family photo album, with his wife, three goats and 27 relatives in tow. Missing are a few sons (off fighting) and his cattle (stolen).

Alfred is one of more than 800,000 South Sudanese who have fled to Uganda since July. The civil war in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands and driven out more than 1.5 million people in the past three years, creating the world’s largest refugee crisis.

The Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the biggest in the world, but Alfred is not going there. It’s full. Imvepi is his destination, where the Ugandan government will issue him with a 50-square-meter (60-square-yard) plot of land and hope for a better life.

But that will take a week, two more camps and three more truck and bus rides with his clan and their salvaged belongings. Alfred walks two hours by foot to the first U.N. processing center for South Sudan refugees in the small Ugandan village of Busia. There, Alfred, a blind man named Ringo with two canes and countless others spend the night before being transferred by minibus to the Kuluba transit camp, 45 minutes down the road. It’s set up to accommodate and dispatch more than 1,000 refugees a day.

Michael Lowe, Alfred’s 28-year-old son, directs the women of their family to carry their belongings into the white tent they will share with Ringo and his wife, Charly Kenisha, for the next 48 hours. During that time, a well-oiled routine will take them through the hands of charities like the International Rescue Committee and Medical Teams International, who will do medical exams and vaccinations.

Alfred sits in a prized wooden chair carried from South Sudan while the grandchildren play. He opens his photo album. “These are my sons.” He points at a fading color image showing five of his eight sons. Six are still fighting in South Sudan. “And this is my favorite photo . me and my bicycle.”

Alfred, a farmer, shares a few regrets: “If I was young again, I would raise more cattle, and build a good house in concrete, and also pay for my kids’ school. I didn’t go to school and neither did my children.”

In the morning, all the family’s belongings are repacked and reloaded onto a truck for transport to Imvepi. More than 1,500 people will be transported in buses adorned with the word “Friends” on the side.

Sixty kilometers (36 miles) and two hours later, the convoy arrives at Imvepi, which is growing at a rate of over 2,000 refugees each day. Already a bustling town has emerged at the entrance to the processing camp, with locals offering vegetables, fish, clothing and cellphone credit at highly inflated prices.

In the morning, Alfred wakes up in pain. The night has been difficult, with no sleep and a bout of diarrhea. He spends the morning at the clinic, which makes it too late for his clan to move today. They will spend one more night in tent 7A. The clan includes eight heads of families, some orphans and several widows from the war or disease: A representative sample of South Sudan’s rural society, squeezed into a tent.

As the line of trucks starts to fill up the next morning with goods and 500 people for the final leg of their journey, the clan sits amid their belongings under the broiling sun. More than 50 people in each pickup truck are driven the 15 kilometers (9 miles) to their plots of land on newly cleared dirt roads.

Peeking through the cover of the truck, Alfred can see the white tents that have mushroomed across the land, smell the smoke of their kitchen fires and hear the laughter of children. Soon he will be able to once again sit in his wooden chair, his trademark cowboy hat on his head, and call it home.

The next day, from his chair under an acacia tree, Alfred shouts his commands as his sons set up a tent. The sons cut branches from surrounding trees to build the frame of Alfred’s dwelling. As the women and children settle in, Alfred and his wife, Kassa, reminisce.

“We met at home 70 years ago. No, 60! And this is my only wife,” Alfred says. Alfred and Kassa have to move inside the unfinished tent with the others when a fierce storm moves in. They all cling to each other, 10 people on 5 square meters (54 square feet) of dirt floor.

Alfred whispers: “Are we going to get a solid house and not a tent?” Tens of thousands of the refugees already have built the type of brick homes that Alfred now desires to replace the mud hut in South Sudan he was forced to abandon.

The couple does not hold out hope of returning home to South Sudan. “I saw the killing, I saw burning houses, I saw the dead with their throats slashed,” Alfred says, clutching his cowboy hat tightly. “I cannot go back and see it again.”

South Sudan promises ‘unimpeded’ aid access amid famine

February 21, 2017

WATAMU, Kenya (AP) — South Sudan’s president said Tuesday his government will ensure “unimpeded access” for all aid organizations, a day after famine was declared for more than 100,000 people in the country suffering from years of civil war.

The United Nations and others have long accused the government of blocking or restricting aid delivery in the East African nation. President Salva Kiir’s remarks to the transitional national assembly came after the famine was declared in parts of oil-rich Unity state. More than 100,000 people are affected, according to South Sudan’s government and U.N. agencies. They say another 1 million people are on the brink of starvation.

South Sudan has repeatedly promised to allow full humanitarian access across the country, but with little effect. Some in Kiir’s government have expressed hostility toward the international community, accusing it of meddling in the country’s affairs.

Human Rights Watch researcher Jonathan Pedneault wrote Tuesday that the famine is a man-made result of “conflict, warring parties blocking access for aid workers and large-scale human rights violations.”

Also Tuesday, the European Commission announced an 82 million euro ($87 million) emergency aid package for South Sudan, saying this is the first famine declared in the country since it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

“The humanitarian tragedy in South Sudan is entirely man-made,” EU Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides said in a statement. Crucially what matters is that all parties allow humanitarian organizations to have immediate and full access to do their job and deliver aid.”

Tens of thousands have died in the civil war that began in December 2013 and has continued despite a peace agreement in 2015. More than 1.5 million people have fled the country. South Sudan also is experiencing severe inflation, which has made food unaffordable for many families.

EU warns of possible new sanctions in South Sudan

December 12, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union says it stands ready to impose fresh sanctions against anyone who incites ethnic hatred, obstructs the peace process or stops U.N agencies from doing their work in South Sudan.

EU foreign ministers said in a statement Monday that they are “profoundly disturbed” by intensifying conflict five years after South Sudan gained independence. They called on the transitional government to protect civilians, and for all parties to respect international law and bring an end to human rights violations.

The U.N. recently warned that South Sudan is at risk of genocide and that ethnic cleansing is being carried out in several parts of the country. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million people displaced by the civil war.

Kenya accuses UN of targeting general fired in South Sudan

November 04, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Kenya accused the U. N. secretary-general on Thursday of instigating an investigation of deadly attacks in South Sudan with the “preordained” outcome of blaming the Kenyan commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force, who was fired over events that occurred just three weeks after he assumed the post.

Kenya’s U.N. Ambassador Macharia Kamau told a news conference that Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki was sacked by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as “a scapegoat” for the systemic failures of the U.N. peacekeeping system.

He said the investigation was demanded “by certain current and future members” of the Security Council who wanted to protect their interests during the July attacks in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. He refused to identify them.

The investigation sharply criticized the U.N. peacekeeping force’s response to attacks on a U.N. compound in Juba housing 27,000 displaced people. Over three days in July, at least 73 people were killed, including two Chinese peacekeepers and more than 20 internally displaced people who had sought U.N. protection. The investigators also criticized U.N. peacekeepers for failing to respond to an attack on a private compound just over a kilometer away where U.N. staff, aid workers and local staff were robbed, beaten, raped and killed by armed government soldiers.

Kenya’s Foreign Ministry, expressing “dismay” at Ondieki’s firing and the way the investigation was conducted, announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing its 1,000 troops from the U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan and will not contribute to beefing up the force by 4,000 troops.

“Kenya had warned that any unfair or prejudicial action taken on the basis of this investigation would compel Kenya to re-evaluate completely its engagement in South Sudan,” Kamau said. “The secretary-general, in his lame-duck season, seems to have found the courage that has eluded him throughout his tenure by choosing to ignore Kenya’s plea.”

Ban’s 10 years as U.N. chief ends on Dec. 31 and Antonio Guterres will take over as secretary-general on Jan. 1. South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been riven by ethnic violence since shortly after gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011. Civil war broke out in 2013 when government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battled rebels led by his former vice president Riek Machar, who is a Nuer. Tens of thousands have been killed, more than 2 million displaced, and despite an August 2015 peace agreement, fighting has continued.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric rejected Kamau’s accusations, saying there was “no preordained conclusion” to the investigation led by retired Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert. He said the investigators looked at “leadership, command decisions taken on that day,” and the secretary-general fired Ondieki on the basis of their findings, which “deeply distressed” him.

“The decision to ask for his removal is an initial decision,” Dujarric said. “Other decisions might be taken, but obviously the secretary-general stands by the report that Mr. Cammaert did and the way it was done.”

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said “there is, of course, the system-wide accountability. We all have a degree of responsibility.” As for the firing of Ondieki, he said, “I don’t want to add salt to the wound. I think that conclusions were irrefutable.”

Ladsous spoke to reporters after briefing the Security Council at a closed meeting. A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the session was private, said the United States proposed a press statement welcoming the report and the U.N.’s transparency, but there was no agreement because China was not willing to accept any reference to the report.

In the attacks on the U.N. compound, the report said confusing senior leadership and the lack of leadership on the ground, where the Chinese battalion commander had been appointed as the incident commander, “contributed to incidents of poor performance among the military and police contingents at UN House.”

This included “at least two instances in which the Chinese battalion abandoned some of its defensive positions” and an “inadequate” performance by Nepalese police to stop looting by some displaced people and control the crowd, it said.

Kamau said “the sources used to inform the investigation, according to our information, were people who were … in the direct line of command and related colleagues to the force commander. “These individuals, who had been in position years and months before the force commander arrived, have reason to miscue information in a manner that protects them and apportions blame elsewhere,” he said.

Kamau said “the investigation could not and should not have been just about the force commander.” Instead, the investigation should have centered on response to events, the failure of the peacekeeping system, and the need for collective responsibility and accountability from the U.N. peacekeeping department in New York to the joint operations command at the U.N. mission in Juba, Kamau said.

Associated Press writer Michael Astor contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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