Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
10 June 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General today visited Kazakhstan, where he participated in the fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. In his remarks, he said that there is no greater cause today than building bridges of understanding and cooperation among communities. We must open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to those of different backgrounds or beliefs – and safeguard the rights of all religious communities, in particular minority communities.
The Secretary-General also met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev. And he took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new UN House in Astana, and he was accompanied by Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov. Speaking to the press afterward, the Secretary-General said that Kazakhstan is known for its work within the region and around the world, serving as a global leader in promoting nuclear non-proliferation and peacebuilding. He also said that Kazakhstan should continue to make progress on human rights, including the development of a comprehensive National Human Rights Action Plan.
While in Kazakhstan today, the Secretary-General also met on the side lines of the meeting with the President of Finland and received an honorary doctorate from the Alfarabi Kazakh National University.
He should be on his way to Kyrgyzstan as we speak.
Back here, the Security Council met on Sudan today and heard a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.
Mr. Mulet said the security situation remained very serious in Darfur, with continued need for substantial humanitarian assistance and limited progress in the peace process.
He also noted a deeply concerning increase in violent attacks against personnel from the African Union-UN Mission (UNAMID) as well as humanitarian personnel.
Mr. Mulet stressed that the second phase of the Government's military offensive "Operation Decisive Summer" had resulted in high numbers of newly displaced people. In addition, the current year has seen intercommunal conflicts leading to periodic outbreaks of violence.
His full remarks are available in my office.
Turning to Libya, all delegations of the Libyan political dialogue are currently in Berlin for discussions hosted by Germany with senior officials from a number of States, including the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, as well as, of course, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Bernardino León.
In a communiqué issued moments ago in Berlin, all participants renewed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya, while recalling the Security Council statement of 23 July  and other relevant Council resolutions.
The Governments represented at the meeting and the European Union expressed their unequivocal support for the Libyan political dialogue led by Mr. León and to his proposals to reach a compromise.
The Secretary-General remains very hopeful that this agreement will help the Libyans end the current crisis and rebuild their country in a peaceful and unified manner.
Turning to Syria, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is continuing meetings with a broad spectrum of Syrian, regional and international interlocutors within the framework of the Geneva Consultations.
Since 5 May 2015, Mr. de Mistura and his deputy have met so far with representatives of the Syrian Government, the Syrian opposition Coalition and 39 Syrian political and civil society groups. They have also held 26 meetings with representatives of concerned Member States from the Security Council and the region, as well as regional organizations. Mr. de Mistura expects this process to continue until mid-July.
Mr. de Mistura also reiterates his sincere hope and belief that guns will fall silent one day. The sooner they fall silent, the more lives will be saved, he said. It is the responsibility of all Syrian, regional and international actors to try to bring that day forward and to make every effort to protect civilians under any circumstances and at all times. This is particularly relevant to the unacceptable use of barrel bombs.
His statement is available in my office, as well.
Turning to Iraq, Stephen O'Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, called for greater assistance for millions of people across Iraq following a two-day visit to the country. He said that it is imperative at this critical time that we do more to mitigate the suffering of the Iraqi people.
Since January 2014, more than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes and more than 8 million people are in need of assistance. Aid agencies urgently need access to vulnerable people in need, as well as funding for critical relief work.
Mr. O'Brien said that all the families he spoke with had heart-breaking stories of fear, flight, loss and grief. International humanitarian law obliges all those engaged in fighting to protect civilians during hostilities, including [by] not targeting them.
He said that the United Nations is working to ensure emergency assistance is provided wherever it is needed in Iraq. But the UN urgently needs $497 million to provide shelter, food, water and other life-saving services over the coming six months.
Turning to another dire humanitarian situation, in Yemen, it is estimated that 1,297 civilians have been killed and 3,227 others injured in that country as a result of the conflict between 26 March and 7 June, according to the latest figures released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, a health office warehouse in Taizz city was hit by shelling yesterday, destroying thousands of medical kits, mosquito nets and other health supplies, according to our humanitarian partners.
**Republic of Korea
In Seoul today, the joint mission by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Health has begun its work to review the situation regarding the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (otherwise known as MERS CoV) currently ongoing in the Republic of Korea.
The WHO mission led by the Assistant Director-General, Dr. [Keiji] Fukuda, said that current efforts to control the outbreak and prevent further spread are being intensified.
There have been 108 confirmed cases and 9 deaths so far in the Republic of Korea.
Evidence suggests that the pattern of the outbreak may be similar to the ones that have taken place in health care facilities in the Middle East, but that investigation is still ongoing.
I was asked a couple of questions last week: on Myanmar, about the population control law in Myanmar.
In response to that, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) late yesterday said, in a statement, that it is gravely concerned about the adoption of the Health Care for Population Control Law. It warns that, if implemented, the law could directly undermine basic human rights and women's reproductive rights and freedoms, as confirmed in the Programme of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, to which Myanmar had agreed.
More information on UNFPA's website.
Just to clear up some of the various stories on the Secretary-General's phone conversation last week with the President of Sri Lanka:
I can tell you that the Secretary-General congratulated the President on his accomplishments since assuming office, including on the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The Secretary-General sought the President's views on the prospect for electoral reform. He wished him success with ongoing legislative efforts and inquired about next steps.
The Secretary-General said he appreciated the President's emphasis on reconciliation and offered the UN's continued support to Sri Lanka's peacebuilding efforts.
And today, Angola has now paid its dues in full, becoming the ninety-eighth Member State to do so. Thank you to our friends in Luanda.
Tomorrow the guests at the noon briefing will be Hassan Baage, the Director of the Assessment and Technical Assistance Office of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED). He will be joined by officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA).
My guess is that they will talk about counter-terrorism and aviation. But that's my guess.
**Questions and Answers
I'm done. Yes, in the back?
Question: Mr. Stéphane, yesterday a couple of students from Venezuela went on hunger strike in front of the UN. They're requesting to meet with the Office of the Human Rights Commission here at the UN. Do you have any information of that? They're demanding to meet with them to talk about the situation of the political prisoners and violation of human rights in Venezuela, and they are part of the group of students, 60 of them are already in Caracas in front of the UN, two in the Vatican and now these two here since yesterday.
Spokesman: Sure. We've obviously seen them. I think we've all seen them as we come in to work. My colleagues at the Human Rights Office will be in touch with them to see how and when a meeting can be arranged.
Masood and then the front? A microphone, please, sir.
Question: This is on the talks that Staffan de Mistura has been having in Geneva with the Syrian opposition and Syrian Government. Do you have any idea of how many factions are joining in the talks and how many are staying away? And will he have a figure by the time the talks will begin in earnest?
Spokesman: Well, let me go back to what I've just said. I think these consultations and these meetings have begun in earnest. They've begun for quite a while. As far as the numbers, he's met 39 Syrian political and civil society groups, 26 meetings with representatives of concerned Member States, and those meetings will go on through mid-July. As to the number of factions that have stayed away, I don't think that's a number I'm able to give, because factions seem to come and go.
Question: [inaudible] on Yemen, the talks are about to begin. How many factions have the Secretary‑General's representatives talked to as yet?
Spokesman: There will be two major sides represented in Geneva, but those details will be worked out, and when I can share more with you, I will. Carole.
Question: Can I follow up?
Spokesman: No, no, one second. No, go ahead.
Question: Can you tell us more on these talks which are happening on Sunday? Are you expecting them to be – to last days or weeks or months? And is there discussion about regional involvement, perhaps in a separate fora linked to this process?
Spokesman: The talks will start on Sunday. I'm not – the consultations will start on Sunday. I'm not going to go into what the end date will be. Participating in those meetings, though without sharing any more detail at this time, will be Yemeni parties. They will be the ones in the meetings themselves. I have no doubt that other regional players will be present in Geneva, as they're all represented there, as it's a UN headquarters. But the talks themselves – the consultations themselves will be with the Yemeni parties.
Question: Stéphane, going back to Libya, in light of the statement yesterday from members of the Libyan Parliament in Tobruk that they weren't going to send anybody, could you give us some information on this apparent change of heart and who actually represented the Government in the Berlin talks that took place today?
Spokesman: Sure. Let me try to get you an exact answer on that one. Obviously, following the sharing of the draft by Mr. León, we've seen different reactions from different parties, some positive, others slightly less so. And I think we've also taken note of a statement from the House of Representatives, noting that they intended to brief their colleagues upon their return to Libya.
So, you know, I think, as always, it's expected that we have different reactions to the draft put forward, and – but the discussions will continue.
Joe and then Sangwon?
Question: Yeah, actually two questions. The first is you mentioned a total number of fatalities in the Yemen conflict so far. Is there any further breakdown as to the number of civilians and, within that group, the number of children who have been killed in that conflict? And my second question goes back to the children and armed conflict report but not on Israel, the Palestinians. This is on the Congo. The Congolese Army is listed in the annex as having violated, actually, a couple of the specific rights of children. And yet other than with respect to the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda], the UN peacekeeping forces are continuing to work with, support and cooperate with the Congolese Army. I'm wondering whether that's, in the view of the Secretary‑General, fully consistent with his human rights diligence policy. Thank you.
Spokesman: On your second question, my understanding is a lot of the vetting that is going on is done on a unit-by-unit basis in terms of the cooperation between the UN peacekeeping forces and the Congolese, DRC Armed Forces. Obviously, the issue of recruitment of child soldiers and all the other issues listed in the report is one of concern, is one that the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) for Children and Armed Conflict continues to engage in and we encouraged all the parties listed to engage with her.
And as far as on the mission level, it is something – the cooperation is done on a unit-by-unit basis.
Your first part of your question?
Question: The first question was to see if there was any further breakdown of the fatalities…
Spokesman: I don't believe they have that breakdown. I don't think I would be wrong in saying that, in these types of conflicts, the overwhelming majority of casualties are, in fact, civilians. But we'll see whether our colleagues at the High Commissioner for Human Rights, if they can give you a further breakdown.
Question: And within even that subgroup, that group are children because the UN seems to have more precise figures with respect to Gaza. So I'd like to know what…
Spokesman: I think also, you know, the methodology in that report is explained. And obviously, it is less complicated to get figures after a conflict is over, given a little bit more time. Sangwon and then Nizar?
Question: Two things, quickly. Can you confirm which Yemeni parties as of – are going to be attending on Sunday? And secondly, last year, at the height of the Ebola outbreak, the SG spoke a lot about how there shouldn't be unnecessary restrictions on health workers' movement, etc. So I was wondering, WHO said today that there's no need for schools to be closed in South Korea as a result of the MERS outbreak. What does the Secretary-General think about that? Does he think some measure – there should be more – I don't know – prudence in the way that some measures are introduced?
Spokesman: I think as far as the situation with MERS and the Republic of Korea, obviously, the World Health Organization is in the lead. We have no reason to question or doubt the advice they're giving to the Republic of Korea authorities. I think it's a good sign that the Assistant Director-General is there, working in cooperation with the Republic of Korea health ministries. So we'll leave that to WHO.
On your second part, I'm not able to share any more details at this time, but we're trying to harvest as much information as possible.
Question: Quick follow‑up on the MERS: He also last year, you know, regarding Ebola, spoke a lot about how people should – you know, shouldn't be stigmatized, etc., and in Korea right now, there's a lot of sort of fear and panic for understandable reasons. I mean, can the SG speak to, you know – does he have any concerns about that?
Spokesman: First of all, I wouldn't want to draw parallels or comparisons between the MERS outbreak and the Ebola outbreak we've seen in West Africa. I think what is important in any health emergency is that people act calmly and rationally and follow the guidance and instructions from health professionals.
Question: On Yemen, am I correct to understand that there is two parties participating – will be participating in the talks? One of them is Government and the parties affiliated with the Government or associated with them and the other one Ansar Allah, the Houthis and parties with them. Is that correct?
Spokesman: I don't think that would be a wrong assumption, that if there are two groups, one – they would be somewhat in the way you described it. I'm not going to go into details as to who would be represented on each seat, but as I said, as soon as I have information to share, I will.
Question: How about the parties which are affiliated with al-Qaeda? For example, many of the fighters are hand‑in‑hand fighting in Aden, in Taizz, in Hadramawt…
Spokesman: I think this is – these are political consultations, and they will be represented by political leaders.
Question: Just one – one –
Spokesman: I promise – Nizar, I promise I will come back to you. Matt – I promise. Matthew?
Question: Yeah. I want to ask about sexual abuse and also about Burundi. I'm sure you've seen AP's report on the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report on sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly in MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission] in Haiti, saying 225 women testified that they were exchange – you know, asked by peacekeepers to exchange sex for money or food or whatever. So how do you square this with the report made here by the Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous that only 51 cases of sexual exploitation or abuse were alleged worldwide, 51 as opposed to 225 in one country? And what's going to be done to square what seems to be a dramatic underreporting by the UN?
Spokesman: I think the – first of all, the report that you referred to in the Associated Press filing, as far as my understanding is concerned, it's still a draft report. There's still comments going back and forth, as usually there are between the concerned department and OIOS. So I'm not going to go into what's said in the report.
Obviously, the issue of underreporting is of concern. Every case needs to be looked into. Every case of sexual abuse needs to be looked into. The Secretary‑General is determined to continue on the zero‑tolerance policy. I think if you look at the special measures report that was issued earlier this year, I think it outlines a number of steps that were taken. And obviously, you know, all sorts of things are looked at in terms of prohibited conduct, discouraged conduct and others. So, you know, the report's still in draft form. I don't have any information on the specific cases you mentioned.
Question: Maybe the number will somehow be reduced, but what I did want to ask you is, can you say from this podium that peacekeepers requesting sex in exchange for money or food does constitute sexual exploitation and abuse, for the purposes of this 51 figure that was thrown out in this room?
Spokesman: Again, I'm not go into that. I think if you look at the Secretary‑General's special measures report, I think it outlines those things and it answers your question.
Question: And on Burundi?
Spokesman: Yes, go ahead.
Question: I wanted to ask you, a letter's been issued dated today by the Government of Burundi saying that various meetings can reopen except five that are perceived to be anti-government, including RPA [Radio Publique Africaine], Radio Bonesha FM and three others. There's a letter saying they are prohibited from entering their studios due to a criminal investigation. So I'm wondering, what does Mr. [Said] Djinnit, who's there – and there are many people in that country that rely on those radio stations to get any kind of non-Government information…
Spokesman: I haven't seen the specific letter you mentioned, but it's clear that free and open media is essential as part of an open and free political process.
Yes, in the back and then Luke, and then we'll go.
Question: I'm from Al-Quds al-Arabi, based in London. The UN Spokesman in Geneva, Ahmad Fawzi, said that talks in Geneva among Yemeni groups will only last three days. Can you confirm that?
Spokesman: I don't like to openly defy my colleague Mr. Fawzy, so if he said that, he said that. I will see what information I can get.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Kind of a general question. I think it's fair to say the UN has an interest in promoting transparency, making the business of global governance accessible. And given that, I wonder what the SG feels about this trend of so many Member States negotiating big trade deals, wide ranging ones like the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership], TTIP [Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] and TISA [Trade in Services Agreement], behind closed doors, sort of. I mean, is it worrisome to the SG that so many areas of public policy may be open to government and corporate input but maybe not public input?
Spokesman: I don't have any specific comment on the TPP, but as you said, obviously, transparency in public policy is something that needs to be encouraged.
Question: Yes. I have two questions. First one is about Iran and the second one is about the ISIS‑controlled areas. According to the UN Sanctions Committee report that was raised yesterday, countries don't report on the sanctions violations that has been committed by Iran, including like for example general – one of the Iranian generals that's travelling, obviously has travel ban and nobody reports about that. Does the Secretary‑General has any comments about that, that the Iranian violations are not reported?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, Member States have a duty to do diligent reporting in – according to the relevant Security Council sanctions resolutions. So that's a responsibility of Member States.
Question: And my question about the – sending aid to the ISIS-controlled area, to people who living under ISIS control, the UN Mission in Iraq announced that they will try to do that, to send it to Mosul and other areas in Iraq. Has any progress been made in that regard, sending aid to those areas? And in Syria, to the same ISIS areas, has the United Nations sent any aid to cities like Rakka or other areas?
Spokesman: We will check. Obviously, trying to get humanitarian aid into zones controlled by Da'esh can be little difficult, given the security situation, but I will check.
Question: Can I follow up? Who do you coordinate with?
Spokesman: Our humanitarian colleagues talk to whoever they have to talk to on the ground to ensure the safe passage of aid. My colleagues back in the office, who are obviously better informed than I am, just want me on Yemen to say that we have publicly said that seven seats have been allocated for both sides and that the Special Envoy expects representatives from Houthis and the General People's Congress Party as well as Socialists, Nasserites and Islah party. The Government of President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi will also be represented. Thank God somebody's paying attention.
Spokesman: They're smart but not that smart. Yes, go ahead.
Question: It's been a week or so since Tony Blair submitted his resignation from the Quartet. I wonder whether there are any discussions regarding his replacement.
Spokesman: No, not that I – not that I'm aware of.
Question: Is the Secretary‑General doing anything through the Quartet or any other –
Spokesman: I think the Quartet envoys continue to be in touch on a regular basis, and it continues to be an active forum.
Question: One last thing about the same –
Spokesman: Yeah, yeah, of course.
Question: Do you have numbers for how many Palestinian children were killed in the past conflict in Gaza, and on the other side, on the Israeli side, do you have any number of how many children were killed?
Spokesman: I think those numbers are included in the children and armed conflict report.
Question: Do you have them? Can you say them on the record because we…
Spokesman: I don't have them with me, but we have ‑‑ we can figure something out.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Yesterday, you mentioned the Secretary‑General spoke about – again, about the importance of finding – of getting to the roots of terrorism. So there was two weeks ago, a US Defense Intelligence Agency document that was released in a court case. It was from – dated August 2012. And it says the West, Turkey and Gulf States were supporting at least at that time in Syrian Salafis, al‑Nusra, which is, of course, the Al-Qaida branch and the Muslim Brotherhood, that these groups were setting up a Salafist principality, a safe haven to isolate the regime of Bashar al‑Assad. It also warned – it predicted that these groups could join up with extremists on the other side of the border in Iraq and create an Islamic state. So my question is: Does the Secretary‑General consider one of the roots of terrorism support by the West, Turkey and Arab Gulf States of extremist groups? We have other evidence of this as well. Joe Biden talked about it. There's a Hillary Clinton…
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General from the start of the current conflict in Syria has always encouraged regional parties and other countries who have an influence on different parties within the conflict in Syria to exercise that influence in a positive manner that would lead to peace and to a renewed political process. I can't speak to the specific document that you're reading from, but it is clear that from our point of view, support and effort should go to the political process and not to supporting these types of organisations. But, again, I – I haven't seen the report you're mentioning, and I have no way to validate it one way or another.
Question: Thank you. I just sent it to you. Thanks.
Spokesman: I appreciate that.
Question: You're welcome.
Spokesman: Carole, then Nizar, then Matthew.
Question: Stéphane, just to get back to de Mistura, who's winding up in July, can you say in general terms how it's going?
Spokesman: No, I think – Mr. de Mistura's continuing to listen and to engage, and I don't think he would want to share an assessment until he's done and until he's spoken to all the people he needs to speak to. I think this is a very long – it's a long process. He's taken the time that he needs, because he needs to listen before sharing his assessment.
Nizar, Matthew, Masood.
Question: How concerned is the Secretary‑General on Yemen, regarding the repeating of the same scenario which is being conducted in Libya – that things can go out of hand as a result of dumping weapons to every Tom, Dick and Harry in Yemen from airplanes, money –
Spokesman: Look, I think – as in any conflict, the longer it continues, the risk of a complete breakdown of the state and of the situation on the ground increases. That's why we're putting so much effort into putting the political talks back on track and that's why we're having the meeting in Geneva.
Question: Did you receive any reports regarding a massacre which took place a couple of days ago in a major hospital in Aden under the control of the – of the Al-Qaida-affiliated…
Spokesman: I don't have anything from this podium at this point.
Mr. Lee, then Masood and then Evelyn?
Question: Haiti and Darfur. On Haiti, I just wanted to see if you have any comment on the appeal that's been filed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on the cholera case, and it's signed – there's a brief submitted by a number of former UN officials, Mr. [Abdul Karim] Chowdhury, Ms. [Kathleen] Cravero, Stephen Lewis. Given that these people worked for the UN and some in senior positions and that they believe that the UN should somehow move beyond impunity or immunity, what's your response?
Spokesman: I have no response to what we've already – what we've already said on the ongoing cases.
Question: All right. And on Darfur, I listened to what Mr. Mulet said, and you definitely said about these IDPs [internally displaced persons], but he was very much saying that they were going to close down – the intention was to close out UNAMID in West Darfur and even close team sites in North and South Darfur. So I wondered, can you – he didn't do a stakeout, so I'd like to ask you. How do you explain what some see as a declining situation and 130,000 unverified IDPs, 78,000 verified IDPs, with basically the closing down of the mission, and he didn't mention the Thabit rapes either? Has any effort or success been made in getting access?
Spokesman: Unfortunately, no success has been made – excuse me – in reaching Thabit. The request continues. But, obviously – we're now, literally months have gone by, and one can very well imagine that any evidence that would have been of use to us in investigating these rapes has now disappeared.
You know, I don't think anyone is talking about closing down the mission. I mean, there may be some structural adjustments. He also said that it is clear that the exit strategy for UNAMID needs to be based on a concrete improvement of the situation on the ground and, until that happens, cooperation with the Government of Sudan based on mutual trust needs to be continued. So I would leave it at that.
Masood and then Evelyn?
Question: Yes. Stéphane, is there any update on the situation in Anbar Province in Iraq from the – from the United Nations? Because United States is now ready to send some trainers –
Spokesman: I saw that report. I have nothing new to report on the humanitarian situation.
Question: Yes. I was also going to ask on Darfur. It looks like there's an exit strategy and I'm not sure, because Sudan would like them out, whether – how the UN is battling this, because as bad as it is there, it would be worse without them.
Spokesman: No, I would not disagree with that statement. I think what Mr. Mulet said, if – for the exit strategy to work, it needs to be based on a concrete improvement on the situation on the ground. And until that happens, we need to work with the Government of Sudan based on mutual trust, and that's what he stressed.
Question: But there doesn't seem to be mutual trust.
Spokesman: Well, I think we are [overlapping talking] – We're working on it on our end. Yes?
Question: Okay. South Asia. I wanted – thanks for this readout of the 4 June call by the Secretary‑General to Sri Lanka. But can you – I mean, there definitely was a lot of, quote, misunderstanding in Sri Lanka about the call. Why was a readout not given for six days? That sort of allowed the misunderstanding. Was that a decision?
Spokesman: It's a failure of my system.
Question: All right. What I mean is there some agreement by the Government that neither side would read it out or – because they immediately read it out.
Spokesman: No, I said no. It was a failure in my system.
Question: The other has to do with there was an operation by India into Myanmar chasing, quote, rebel groups. I wonder, since it's a crossing of the border, was anyone in the UN system informed of this? Did DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or anyone –
Spokesman: I don't believe anyone was informed. I just saw the press reports recently. I'll see if we have a reaction. Thank you, all. See you tomorrow.
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