Aung San Suu Kyi — a Nobel Peace Prize winner’s shame

Nicholas Kristof writes: For the last three weeks, Buddhist-majority Myanmar has systematically slaughtered civilians belonging to the Rohingya Muslim minority, forcing 270,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh — with Myanmar soldiers shooting at them even as they cross the border.

“The Buddhists are killing us with bullets,” Noor Symon, a woman carrying her son, told a Times reporter. “They burned houses and tried to shoot us. They killed my husband by bullet.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the widow who defied Myanmar’s dictators, endured a total of 15 years of house arrest and led a campaign for democracy, was a hero of modern times. Yet today Daw Suu, as the effective leader of Myanmar, is chief apologist for this ethnic cleansing, as the country oppresses the darker-skinned Rohingya and denounces them as terrorists and illegal immigrants.

And “ethnic cleansing” may be an understatement. Even before the latest wave of terror, a Yale study had suggested that the brutality toward the Rohingya might qualify as genocide. The U.S. Holocaust Museum has also warned that a genocide against the Rohingya may be looming.

For shame, Daw Suu. We honored you and fought for your freedom — and now you use that freedom to condone the butchery of your own people? [Continue reading…]

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More than a quarter-million Rohingya have fled Burma in the past two weeks, UN says

The Washington Post reports: On Friday, the United Nations’ refugee agency significantly revised upward its estimate of how many Rohingya people had fled Burma to neighboring Bangladesh over the past two weeks, to 270,000 from just 125,000 earlier this week.

Renewed violence has engulfed Burma’s Rakhine state, where tension between the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority and the country’s Burmese and largely Buddhist majority have simmered and flared for decades. Some 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya already lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh before this summer. An estimated 1.1 million remained in Burma. Since Aug. 25, nearly a quarter of that remaining population has reportedly fled.

Human rights groups and journalists have been reporting a statewide scorched-earth campaign by Burmese security forces to kill or otherwise expel Rohingya from the country. A BBC reporter who was on a government-chaperoned trip around Rakhine state said he spoke with Burmese men who admitted to burning a Rohingya village with the help of local police. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on Burma — also known as Myanmar — said Friday that more than 1,000 mostly Rohingya people may have been killed over the past two weeks. [Continue reading…]

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Massacre at Tula Toli: Rohingya recall horror of Myanmar army attack

The Guardian reports: It was the fast-flowing river that doomed the inhabitants of Tula Toli.

Snaking around the remote village on three sides, the treacherous waters allowed Burmese soldiers to corner and hold people on the river’s sandy banks. Some were shot on the spot. Others drowned in the current as they tried to escape.

Zahir Ahmed made a panicked dash for the opposite bank, where he hid in thick jungle and watched his family’s last moments.

“I was right next to the water,” he recalled in an interview a week later at a refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh, his eyes bloodshot and his shirt stained with sweat and dirt.

Ahmed said teenagers and adults were shot with rifles, while babies and toddlers, including his youngest daughter, six-month old Hasina, were thrown into the water.

He cried as he described seeing his wife and children die, meticulously naming and counting them on both hands until he ran out of fingers.

More than 160,000 of Myanmar’s 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya minority have fled to Bangladesh, bringing with them stories that they say describe ethnic cleansing.

During interviews with more than a dozen Rohingya from Tula Toli, the Guardian was told of what appeared to be devastating carnage as Myanmar’s armed forces swept through the village on 30 August and allegedly murdered scores of people. [Continue reading…]

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Rohingya crisis intensifies as India’s Modi arrives in Burma for talks

The Washington Post reports: Nearly 125,000 refugees belonging to the Rohingya minority ethnic group have fled Burma for neighboring Bangladesh in just the past week and a half, according to local aid organizations. They have relayed testimony of indiscriminate executions, gunfire from helicopters and a scorched-earth campaign seemingly aimed at destroying Rohingya villages and driving the mostly Muslim population out of predominantly Buddhist Burma. Hundreds have died making the journey to Bangladesh, including 46 who drowned when a boat carrying them capsized last week.

As the crisis deepens, governments and influential international figures — primarily, but not exclusively, from the Muslim world — have begun to speak out against the Burmese government and its de facto leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the Burmese capital on Tuesday to discuss trade, but he was also expected to bring up the Rohingya issue.

The most recent spate of violence in Burma’s southwestern Rakhine state broke out Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked local security forces, killing at least 12. The attack mirrored a similar one in October that killed nine border police personnel and spurred almost 90,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, which has been a refuge for the group for decades, though increasingly reluctantly.

This year’s violence appears to be more widespread and intense. The Burmese military has acknowledged killing at least 370 Rohingyas in what it calls “clearance operations.” The government maintains that all those killed belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant group that has been building up its ranks since last year’s violence. It is unclear how much local and international support ARSA has, but videos of its training camps show only small numbers of shabbily dressed and ill-equipped fighters. [Continue reading…]

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Myanmar blocks all UN aid to civilians at heart of Rohingya crisis

The Guardian reports: Myanmar has blocked all United Nations aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians at the centre of a bloody military campaign against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, the Guardian has learned.

The UN halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds of people.

The office of the UN resident coordinator in Myanmar said deliveries had been suspended “because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance”.

“The UN is in close contact with authorities to ensure that humanitarian operations can resume as soon as possible,” the office said. Aid was being delivered to other parts of Rakhine state, it added.

In the deadliest outbreak of violence in the area for decades, the military has been accused of atrocities against the persecuted Rohingya minority, tens of thousands of whom have fled burning villages to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds. [Continue reading…]

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Malala tells Aung San Suu Kyi ‘world is waiting’ for her to act over Rohingya violence

Press Association reports: Malala Yousafzai has called on Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the “tragic and shameful” treatment of the Myanmar’s Rohingya people following violence that has left hundreds dead.

In a statement on Twitter, the Nobel peace prize winner told her fellow laureate that the “world is waiting” for her to act over unrest that has seen tens of thousands of people flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Yousafzai’s intervention comes after foreign secretary Boris Johnson warned Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, that the treatment of the ethnic minority group was “besmirching” the country’s reputation.

Myanmar security officials and insurgents from the Rohingya have accused each other of burning down villages and committing atrocities in Rakhine state in the north-west of the country.

Calling for an end to the violence, Yousafzai said she had been left heartbroken by reports of young children being killed by security forces and urged the Burmese government to grant the group citizenship. [Continue reading…]

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Myanmar says it will refuse entry to UN investigators probing Rohingya abuses

Reuters reports: Myanmar will refuse entry to members of a United Nations probe focusing on allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims, an official said on Friday.

The government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had already said it would not cooperate with a mission set up after a Human Rights Council resolution was adopted in March.

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come,” said Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Naypyitaw.

“Our missions worldwide are advised accordingly,” he said, explaining that visas to enter Myanmar would not be issued to the mission’s appointees or staff.

Suu Kyi, who came to power last year amid a transition from military rule, leads Myanmar through the specially created position of “State Counsellor”, but is also minister of foreign affairs.

Although she does not oversee the military, Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to stand up for the more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.

She said during a trip to Sweden this month the UN mission “would have created greater hostility between the different communities”. The majority in Rakhine are ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who, like many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]

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The murder of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer in Myanmar

Hannah Beech writes: Whenever I met with Ko Ni, whether seated in his office, with its flickering electricity and precarious piles of law books, or sipping tea in the moldering headquarters of Myanmar’s then-opposition political party, the image that came to mind was that of Atticus Finch — though an Atticus wearing a Burmese sarong. With his salt-and-pepper hair and upright bearing, Ko Ni was the consummate honorable lawyer. He persevered for decades as one of Myanmar’s top constitutional experts despite living under the rule of a military junta with little respect for judicial process. Every day, he woke up and prepared to throw himself, pro bono, into hopeless cases. One day in his office, I saw a stack of papers at the foot of his desk. On top was a copy of the Bulgarian Constitution. You never know, he said, when knowledge of such a document might prove useful.

On January 29th, Ko Ni, sixty-three years old, was assassinated at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. He had just returned from a democracy conference in Indonesia and was waiting for a taxi curbside, while holding his young grandson, when a gunman in sandals sauntered up and pumped a bullet into Ko Ni’s head at close range. Nay Win, a taxi driver who tried to chase down the assassin, was also shot to death. (Ko Ni’s grandson, who had come with relatives to greet his grandfather, tumbled out of the lawyer’s arms but was unhurt.)

As a senior legal adviser to the National League for Democracy, or N.L.D., which is the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize laureate and advocate for democracy, Ko Ni certainly had enemies. He had called for amending, or even rewriting, Myanmar’s Constitution, to reduce the power of the military that had drafted it in the first place. He was also a Muslim, a faith that makes up less than five per cent of the population in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation. Being a Muslim in Myanmar has proved perilous in recent years, particularly in the country’s far western Rakhine state, where hundreds of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnicity largely stripped of citizenship, have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more displaced. A February report by the United Nations accused Burmese security forces of having unleashed a campaign of mass murder, torture, and rape late last year. On March 2nd, Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights, reiterated that pogroms against the Rohingya “may amount to crimes against humanity.” Anti-Muslim violence has also flared outside of Rakhine, in places where Burmese of various faiths had long lived in harmony. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis rebukes Myanmar over treatment of Rohingya

The New York Times reports: Pope Francis on Wednesday issued a fresh rebuke against Myanmar over its repression of the Rohingya minority group, just days after a United Nations report concluded that security forces had slaughtered and raped hundreds of men, women and children in a “campaign of terror.”

“They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” Francis said of the Rohingya in his weekly audience at the Vatican.

He asked those present to pray with him “for our Rohingya brothers and sisters who are being chased from Myanmar and are fleeing from one place to another because no one wants them.”

The pope urged Christians “to not raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good,” and added: “A Christian can never say, ‘I’ll make you pay for that.’ Never! That is not a Christian gesture.”

The remarks were widely seen as a reference to President Trump’s vow to make Mexico pay for a wall along its border with the United States, though the pope did not mention Mr. Trump by name.

Francis also addressed the plight of the Rohingya in 2015, but his latest remarks were his strongest yet on the issue. [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi fails to calm Myanmar’s ethnic violence

The Economist reports: Syed, a 33-year-old Muslim religious teacher, feared the worst. On October 9th Rohingya militants attacked border posts near Maungdaw, a township in the north of Rakhine state in western Myanmar, killing nine Burmese border guards. Syed, himself a Rohingya from Rakhine, was sure that a vicious crackdown by Myanmar’s army would follow. So he put on non-religious clothes and shaved his beard. Along with 16 others he left his home village. For days the group hid in a forest. Eventually they crossed the Naf River, which separates Myanmar from Bangladesh, and found their way to the sprawling, ramshackle Kutupalong camp near the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar.

Syed’s fears were justified. Myanmar’s army has blocked access to much of Maungdaw, keeping away journalists, aid workers and international monitors (troops claim to be searching for stolen guns and ammunition). But reports have emerged of mass arrests, torture, the burning of villages, killings of civilians and the systematic rape of Rohingya women by Burmese soldiers. At least 86 people have been killed. Satellite imagery analysed by Human Rights Watch suggests that soldiers have burned at least 1,500 buildings — including homes, food shops, markets and mosques (one devastated area is pictured). The organisation says this could be a conservative estimate; it includes only buildings not obscured by trees. Amnesty International says the army’s “callous and systematic campaign of violence” may be a crime against humanity. Myanmar’s government denies all such allegations, dismissing many of them as fabrications.

Around 27,000 Rohingyas — members of a Muslim ethnic group native to Rakhine — have recently, like Syed, fled to Bangladesh. But about 1m of them remain. Before the recent turmoil, tens of thousands of Rohingyas in northern Rakhine relied on aid for food, water and health care. The blockade has severed that lifeline.

Such brutality does not reflect well on Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel peace prize who has led Myanmar since her party’s resounding electoral victory in 2015. Neither does ethnic conflict, which has been intensifying on the other side of the country, speak well of her skills as a peacemaker. She entered office saying her priority was to resolve Myanmar’s decades-long civil wars. [Continue reading…]

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Ohio State attacker complained bitterly in Facebook post of treatment of Muslims ‘everywhere,’ reports say

The Washington Post reports: Just minutes before an 18-year-old Somali college student used a car and butcher knife to attack people on the Ohio State University campus Monday morning, he said in a Facebook post that he’d reached a “boiling point” and was “sick and tired” of seeing Muslims around the globe “killed and tortured,” law enforcement officials told CNN and NBC.

The post said the U.S. should stop “interfering” in the Muslim world and referenced “lone wolf” attacks.

The post appeared to be on the Facebook page of the alleged attacker, Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan, and has since been disabled, reported ABC News. The Post could not independently confirm the story.

On Twitter, CNN’s Jake Tapper shared the full text of the post, which he said law enforcement officials confirmed was connected to Artan.

It began with a general denunciation of violence against Muslims “everywhere,” then referenced specifically the Rohingya Muslim community in Burma, who have been long-persecuted and are denied citizenship and basic rights. While the struggles of the Rohingya Muslims receive little publicity in the U.S., their situation has attracted more attention in recent weeks, as the Post’s Annie Gowen reported. Thousands of them have been fleeing into the forests and neighboring Bangladesh on the heels of a brutal military crackdown that followed a terrorist attack on police posts Oct. 9, allegedly carried out by Rohingya militants.

This week, a United Nations refugee agency official told the BBC that Burmese troops were “killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river” into Bangladesh.

The official claimed the government’s goal was “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.” [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s cowardly stance on the Rohingya

In an editorial, the New York Times says: The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar that has been systematically denied the most elemental rights: citizenship, freedom of worship, education, marriage and travel. Tens of thousands of the Rohingya were driven from their homes by violence in 2012; last year many tried to flee persecution and deprivation in desperate sea voyages.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — Myanmar’s leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate — does not want to call them Rohingya, the name they use, because nationalist Buddhists want to perpetuate the myth that they are “Bengalis” who don’t belong in Myanmar. She has also asked the United States ambassador not to use the term. Her advice is wrong and deeply disappointing. The Rohingya are every bit as Burmese as she is.

There are many possible reasons Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi — whose 15 years under house arrest made her one of the world’s best known and most respected political prisoners — might be reluctant to publicly embrace the Rohingya cause. It has been barely a month since she became leader of Myanmar’s first democratically elected government since 1962, with the title of state counselor, and she no doubt fears antagonizing the Buddhist nationalists who angrily demonstrated outside the United States Embassy in late April after the embassy referred to the “Rohingya community” in a letter of condolence for Rohingya victims of a boat sinking.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi may fear that publicly calling these people by their name would upset the national reconciliation process, as a Foreign Ministry official said, or worse: that it would rekindle the terrible violence that erupted in 2012 between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine State.

There is no question that Rakhine State, one of the poorest in Myanmar, is a complex tinderbox of sectarian resentments that requires the most cautious of political approaches. But these simply cannot be based on a perpetuation of the systematic persecution and marginalization of the Rohingya in Myanmar’s social and political life. They certainly cannot be based on denying the Rohingya even their name. [Continue reading…]

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Why Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘Mandela moment’ is a victory for Myanmar’s generals

Maung Zarni writes: Though in exile 6,000 miles away from Myanmar, I can almost taste the euphoria of my fellow dissidents. Aung San Suu Kyi’s wildly popular opposition – the National League for Democracy – has won a landslide in the multiparty elections, and 31 million voters, most apparently backing the NLD, are savouring a long-awaited moment of jubilation. The NLD leader, whom they call Amay or mother, appeared on TV, her eyes shining with tears of joy.

Even foreign journalists covering the country in the 25 years since Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest have scarcely been able to conceal their excitement at the prospect of a new era of freedom and democracy, ushered in through her non-violent, pragmatic leadership.

Myanmar’s Mandela moment has arrived. Or has it?

A sober analysis may be in order. Aside from the fact that Myanmar’s military leaders have, constitutionally, blocked any possibility of “the Woman” with her two “impure-blooded sons” and “foreign privileges” assuming the presidency, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party faces huge barriers to turn a resounding electoral mandate into a real step towards a genuinely representative government.

And this is not the first time the public has felt euphoric about the power of its votes. In May 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi and her then fledgling opposition party won a decisive mandate taking 82% of the parliamentary seats and 62% of the total votes. That landslide came despite the fact that the generals placed her and her senior colleagues under house arrest on the eve of the elections, in effect barring them from the electoral process. So the opposition knows how it feels to fail to convert this mandate a quarter-century ago into a real political gain or put the country on the path of democracy. [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi victory will test commitment to human rights in Myanmar

By Andrew Fagan, University of Essex

Myanmar has taken a potentially momentous step away from dictatorship and towards democracy. More than 6,000 candidates from 91 political parties competed for the votes of 33m registered voters on November 8 in the country’s first credible elections since 1960.

The precise outcome won’t be known for days, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is claiming to have gained at least 70% of the votes cast. Senior figures in the ruling party are conceding defeat.

No one should underestimate the significance of power changing hands in Myanmar via the ballot box. However, this will only finally occur in March 2016, when the newly-elected MPs vote for a new president and a new government will be formed.

[Read more…]

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Rohingya women flee violence only to be sold into marriage

The New York Times reports: The young woman had been penned in a camp in the sweltering jungle of southern Thailand for two months when she was offered a deal.

She fled Myanmar this year hoping to reach safety in Malaysia, after anti-Muslim rioters burned her village. But her family could not afford the $1,260 the smugglers demanded to complete the journey.

A stranger was willing to pay for her freedom, the smugglers said, if she agreed to marry him.

“I was allowed to call my parents, and they said that if I was willing, it would be better for all the family,” said the woman, Shahidah Yunus, 22. “I understood what I must do.”

She joined the hundreds of young Rohingya women from Myanmar sold into marriage to Rohingya men already in Malaysia as the price of escaping violence and poverty in their homeland. [Continue reading…]

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Myanmar to bar Rohingya from fleeing, but won’t address their plight

The New York Times reports: The government of Myanmar says it is determined to stop the departures of migrants fleeing religious persecution in places like this bitterly divided port city, but it will not budge in its refusal to address the conditions driving the exodus across the sea.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, fled the country in recent months, setting off a regional crisis when boatloads of migrants were abandoned at sea or abused and held for ransom by traffickers.

But the government insists that most of the migrants do not belong in Myanmar, referring to them as Bengalis, and says it has no plans to alter policies that strip them of basic rights and confine more than 140,000 to a crowded, squalid government camp here.

“There is no change in the government’s policy toward the Bengalis,” U Zaw Htay, a deputy director general of the Myanmar president’s office, said in an interview this week.

Under international pressure, as crowded vessels baked and bobbed in the ocean for days with no country willing to take them in, regional leaders met in Bangkok last month, and the immediate crisis was relieved when the migrants were granted temporary refuge.

But any hope that Myanmar might have been persuaded to soften its position was quickly dispelled.

When a government delegation returned from the talks, the state news media hailed the officials as managing “to refute accusations that the boat people were from Myanmar.”

And those people, despite the reports of horror stories at sea, are no less desperate to leave. [Continue reading…]

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Burma’s stateless Muslims: The World’s most persecuted minority

Der Spiegel reports: Nuralam often sits awake for hours at night when a lukewarm wind blows through the hut, carrying with it the smell of the sea. He peers over at his sister lying next to him on the mat. He sees his brother at his feet and his mother, both of whom are sleeping. If he were to run to the sea as he once did and surrender himself to it facing in the direction of Malaysia, as he once did, then he would have to leave them all alone here, in a refugee camp in western Burma.

Of course they would miss him. But wouldn’t this provide his siblings with more room in the hut? And couldn’t Nuralam — a 23-year-old diminutive young man with a quiet voice and an ankle-length cloth wrapped around his waist — finally become a real person? “A person with work,” he says. “And with rights.”

As a member of the Rohingya Muslim religious minority, he is not recognized by his country as a citizen. In recent years, radical Buddhists have been agitating people against his religion. Even though he was born in Burma, the authorities refer to him as a “Bengal.”

What keeps a man like Nuralam in a country in which he is stateless and won’t even give him a passport? With a lack of anything better to do, it is a thought that has preoccupied Nuralam countless times in the camp.

During his walks, he has repeatedly seen naked children standing and playing in the sewage. So far this year, more than 25,000 Rohingya have fled in boats across the Gulf of Bengal. The images of their desperate odyssey off the coast of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been transmitted around the world. “I wanted to be one of them,” Nuralam says.

On the night of April 14, when everyone was asleep, Nuralam stood up on his mat. He walked quietly out the door and ran down to the beach. He had made an appointment with a smuggler who was waiting for him there. Nuralam didn’t know what odyssey he was about to embark on. He just wanted to put the insanity in Burma behind him for good. [Continue reading…]

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