Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

Areng Activist Summoned Over Deforestation Complaint

2 Mar

By: Hul Reaksmey , The Cambodia Daily, | March 02, 2015

The Koh Kong Provincial Court has summoned an environmental activist living in the Areng Valley for questioning over allegations that he felled trees in a forest in order to build a community center, rights workers said Sunday.

The summons, dated February 25 and signed by prosecutor Bou Bun Hang, orders Ven Vorn, 36—an ethnic Chong villager who worked closely with recently deported Spanish activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson—to appear before the court on March 10 to answer questions over a complaint filed against him by the Forestry Administration’s Koh Kong cantonment in January.

The summons does not say what Mr. Vorn is accused of, and court officials could not be reached.

However, In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said the Forestry Administration claims Mr. Vorn cut down trees inside a designated forest in order to build a community center in Thma Baing district’s Chumnap commune. He said the accusation was groundless, and meant to intimidate an activist vocally opposed to a planned hydropower dam that would flood the Areng Valley and force him and hundreds of other Chong villagers from their ancestral land.

“The forestry officials filed a legal complaint against him,” Mr. Kongchet said. “But he didn’t do anything against the law. He just cut down normal trees to build a community center for holding meetings.”

“He [Mr. Vorn] joined hands with Mr. Alex to protect the forest because he didn’t want a hydropower dam in Areng to be constructed. This is an act of using the court system to threaten him, to reduce his courage.”

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson was deported last month on the grounds that he helped set up an illegal roadblock on the main route leading into the valley in September.

Oum Meakeary, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Koh Kong cantonment, denied that anyone in the office had filed a complaint against Mr. Vorn.

“If he goes to court, he will find out who filed a complaint against him,” he said, refusing to comment further.

Sun Mala, who co-founded the NGO Mother Nature with Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson in an effort to prevent construction of the 108-MW Stung Cheay Areng dam, said the timing of the Forestry Administration’s complaint against Mr. Vorn was suspicious.

“This could be an intimidation strategy, because when Mr. Alex was there, there was no complaint,” he said.

“This is a strategy to threaten and split up the community voices so the company can go develop a dam inside Areng.”

Mr. Vorn could not be reached on Sunday, but both Mr. Kongchet and Mr. Mala said he would heed the court summons.

Licadho shows data to gov’t

27 Feb

By:May Titthara, The Phnom Penh Post  February 27, 2015

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Villagers march through the streets of Phnom Penh during a protest last year, calling for the government to find a solution to their land dispute. Vireak Mai

Rights group Licadho has provided hard data on land conflicts to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction after the government accused it of concocting a report released earlier this month alleging a sharp increase in disputes across the Kingdom.

The ministry wrote to the group last week to request detailed information proving its claim that it recorded three times as many new land complaints last year than in 2013, with 10,000 families affected across 13 provinces.

The information was sent yesterday, with Licadho saying they hope it will put to rest accusations that their report had been exaggerated and instead lead to action being taken by the government.

“It’s unsettling that government officials are still trying to minimise the country’s widespread land conflict problem,” the group’s director Naly Pilorge said in a statement.

“We hope that this additional information which we have gathered from investigations, most of which were carried out in the 13 provinces where we have field presence, will give the authorities and other interested parties the impetus to move forward and take action on this pressing issue.”

E Bunthouen, the deputy director of the National Cadastral Commission at the Ministry of Land Management, confirmed he had received the data but said he had not yet examined it.

“We have to take time to discuss with our group [about this data],” he said.

The government had asked for data showing the disputants involved in each conflict, the number of families involved, the size of the disputed land and whether any resolution had been found.

The ministry’s own figures show that land disputes have significantly declined in recent years, from 990 outstanding cases in 2013 to 750 cases last year.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan had thus alleged that Licadho made up its figures to paint a negative picture in order to draw more donor funds.

Data released by Licadho last April showed that Cambodia had passed what it called a “shameful milestone”, with land conflicts having affected more than half a million people since 2000.

 

Gov’t confirms deported activist’s blacklist status

27 Feb

By:Chhay Channyda, The Phnom Penh Post  February 27, 2015

Expelled Spanish environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson has been blacklisted and will be barred from returning to Cambodia, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said yesterday.

Gonzalez-Davidson, whose campaigning against the planned Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong drew the ire of authorities, was deported on Monday after the government refused to renew his visa.

Speaking at a seminar on child sexual exploitation at the Sokha Phnom Penh hotel, Kheng said authorities had “no choice” but to expel the Spaniard after he refused to leave when his visa expired.

Kheng claimed authorities had tried to reassure Gonzalez-Davidson that he would be allowed to return to Cambodia if he left prior to his visa expiring, but the authroities weren’t believed. “If he had followed [our advice], he would not have been blacklisted and he could have come back at any time,” Kheng said.

Kheng maintained the decision to deport Gonzalez-Davidson had nothing to do with this activism. Speaking to the Post after his deportation, Gonzalez-Davidson vowed to return.

Timber Tycoon Blasts Name-Dropping Illegal Loggers

27 Feb

By:  Khuon Narim , The Cambodia Daily, February  27, 2015

Timber magnate Try Pheap’s eponymous company, the Try Pheap Group, on Thursday asked the government to clamp down on illegal lumber smugglers who the firm claims are using its name to evade arrest.

The group has a number of government-approved timber trade deals but has also been linked to a vast illegal logging operation carried out with the state’s approval—even complicity—by numerous reports and investigations, claims denied by both the government and the firm.

In a public statement, the company asks unspecified “authorities” to prosecute the alleged impostors and confiscate their vehicles.

“The company has seen that there are some bad people who traffic timber by illegal means by using the name of the Try Pheap Group to make authorities confused,” the statement says.

“It seriously hurts the company’s reputation.” The statement goes on to say that the group’s real trucks can be distinguished by their dark blue color and 1168 number plates.

When contacted Thursday, Try Pheap Group representatives declined to elaborate.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he had not seen the statement but added that the company ought instead to file specific complaints over individual instances of its name being misused.

“It cannot just appeal,” he said. “The company should file a complaint—who is doing it, where it happens.”

Earlier this month, the U.K.-based environmental watchdog group Global Witness released the results of a monthslong undercover investigation that found the Try Pheap Group was working with state agencies to ship vast amounts of illegally logged protected tree species to China.

No Increase in Foreign Direct Investment Last Year

25 Feb

By: Kang Sothear, The Cambodia Daily, February  25, 2015

Cambodia received roughly $4 billion in foreign direct investment last year—roughly the same amount as in 2013, the secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) said after a meeting with the National Assembly’s environment and rural development commission.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting at the Assembly in Phnom Penh, Sok Chenda Sophea said Chinese investors stumped up the largest amount of capital last year, followed by Malaysia and Japan.

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Secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia Sok Chenda Sophea is questioned by the National Assembly’s environment and rural development commission Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

He warned that Cambodia’s entry into the Asean Economic Community at the end of this year would increase competition for foreign investment.

“Every country in Asean wants to attract more investments than the others, and there are many factors that can attract investors’ interests, including minimum wages, electricity prices, transportation costs, land rent and so on,” he said.

Opposition CNRP lawmaker Pol Ham, who chairs the environment commission, told reporters that foreign investment projects sometimes produced negative effects.

“For example, people in Svay Rieng province are able to get jobs in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Bavet City, but [development firm] 7NG builds roads through people’s land,” he said.

 

PM Bashes Enviro, But Freezes Dam

24 Feb

By:Ros Chanveasna, Khmer Times  February 24, 2015

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Prime Minister Hun Sen (R), seen here in a file photo, has blasted Spanish environmental activist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, seen here under arrest Monday. (Photos: Hun Sen/Reuters; Gonzalez-Davidson/Ven Rathavong)

 

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Spanish environmentalist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson was flying to Madrid on a one-way ticket paid by the Cambodian Government, but back in Phnom Penh Prime Minister Hun Sen was giving the airborne activist a verbal kick in the backsides.
“Gonzalez and his group impeded the work of authorities who visited Areng Valley to conduct an environmental impact assessment study,” Cambodia’s Prime Minister said Tuesday in what sounded like blunt warning against foreigners meddling in environmental affairs.
He recalled a recent exchange about forests between Cambodia’s Environmental Minister Say Sam Al and EU ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain.
“Khmers know how to handle it, we do not have to sit and wait for recommendations and ideas provided by foreigners,” Prime Minister Hun Sen told a Koh Pich tourism and city cleanliness conference attended by foreign diplomats. “There was massive cutting of trees for development in the past in Europe, and now they want to advise us about cutting trees.”
“When I traveled from Paris to Bristol, I saw no trees, and now they want to give advice in Asia,” Hun Sen said recalling a recent trip to Europe. “We accept your recommendations, but not too much.”
“We have to put serious considerations on the balance between the economic interests and environmental impacts of Cambodia,” the Prime Minister said. “And the nation will not follow suit the example of Europe in terms of cutting trees.”
“From now to 2018, there will be no Areng dam,” he continued, apparently announcing a moratorium on new construction of hydroelectric dams. “I want the next generation decide on it.”
“ The Royal Government and the Ministry of Mines and Energy always made it clear — and this morning the Prime Minister  has again clarified that the  Areng dam project was and remains at feasibility and EIA stage. One should not still question this issue. And whatever the result from feasibility and EIA study, until 2018 there will be no approval for any dam construction at Areng at all. So please do not make any further polemic on this issue.”
The next parliamentary elections are in 2018. In advance, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has taken up the cause of opposing dam construction.
“Alex has spent his valuable time to do something for our people’s interest,” CRNP spokesman Yim Sovann said, referring to the deported Spaniard. “This model person should be emulated in this country, and that is why he was expelled from the Kingdom.”
CNRP President Sam Rainsy wrote a letter to Cambodia’s Interior Minister requesting that Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s visa be renewed beyond its expiration, Feb. 20. Separately, CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha wrote to King Norodom Sihamoni asking for help in the visa matter.
On Tuesday, Phay Siphan,  Council of Ministers spokesman, complained to Khmer Times that the opposition is trying to make political capital out of the deportation.
“When we consider Gonzalez-Davidson’s case, it seems to be associated with the CNRP, or he does something against the government to attract local people to support the CNRP,” the government spokesman said. Referring to Mother Nature, a group Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson co-founded, he added: “One more thing: we can say that this organization is a political tool for CNRP to increase its support and launch more attacks on the government.”
To this, Mr. Sovann, the opposition spokesman replied: “This has no political benefit for CNRP.”
Opposition politicians have praised Mr. Gonzalez-Davison’s Khmer-language skill and his love of Cambodia.
To this, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned: “I want to send a message to some politicians: please be clear that no foreigner loves the Khmer more than the Khmer love themselves.”
Lost in the political fireworks is the fact that Cambodia imports electricity. With a growing population, it faces a growing power shortage.
“Our concern is the opportunity cost of not building this dam if the environment assessment proves to be permissible and will meet international standards,” said one Cambodian energy expert who asked not to be identified Tuesday because of the swirling political controversy.
“Let’s not forget that Cambodia still has an energy shortage, and, to sustain the Government’s plan to reduce electricity tariffs gradually, sufficient electricity must be produced,” he said. “There is also the factor of cost multiplier: if the project is delayed as there will be inflationary pressures on construction and development costs.”

Gov’t Arrests, Deports Vocal Anti-Dam Activist

24 Feb

By: Zsombor Peter and Khuon Narim , The Cambodia Daily, February  24, 2015

Immigration officials put outspoken environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson on a one-way flight back to Spain last night, only hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly called on the tireless anti-dam campaigner to leave the country.

“He is on the plane. He flies to Bangkok tonight,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said by telephone.

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Protesters hold signs bearing images of environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson—who was deported last night—outside the headquarters of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

In a text message purportedly from Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson sent at 8:32 p.m., the activist said the government was sending him a good deal further.

“In the plane now, ready to take off,” the message said. “Free flight to Madrid, courtesy of the kingdom of wonder.”

The government refused to renew the Spanish national’s visa—which expired Friday—over an illegal roadblock he and his NGO, Mother Nature, set up in Koh Kong province that briefly blocked a government convoy on its way to the site of a proposed hydropower dam in September. The group opposes the dam, which would force hundreds of ethnic minority families off their ancestral land and flood the habitat of several threatened or endangered species.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson and his supporters say the government wants him out of the way because he has succeeded in stalling the project, which has the backing of ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin and the public support of Mr. Hun Sen.

Following the activist’s arrest on Phnom Penh’s riverside shortly after noon on Monday, General Sopheak said Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s steadfast refusal to leave Cambodia voluntarily meant he would not be allowed back. After Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson boarded his flight out of the country, however, the general was more circumspect.

With an official expulsion order from the Interior Ministry on the record, he said, “It means it’s difficult to come back to Cambodia…. I do not say 100 percent that he cannot come back, but I think difficult.”

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s deportation had been looming for days.

When the Interior Ministry said last week that it would not renew his visa, rights groups, unions and several monks rallied to the activist’s side, urging the government to reverse course. Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha sent letters on his behalf to the Interior Ministry, National Assembly and King Norodom Sihamoni.

None of it worked.

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Nov Leakhena, deputy director of the immigration department, speaks with reporters outside the department’s headquarters last night. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Just hours before Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s arrest Monday, Mr. Hun Sen said in a speech the case was a matter of national sovereignty.

“I hope the politicians can understand,” the prime minister said at a university graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh. “No matter who you are, this is a sovereign state. We are not allowed to enter other countries without a visa. They will arrest and deport us if the visa expires. So how can we be a sovereign state if we are violated?”

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson, who speaks fluent Khmer and has lived in Cambodia for 12 years, has said that he considers himself Cambodian and dismissed the idea of his deportation as nonsensical. But Mr. Hun Sen, drawing on Cambodia’s decades-old entanglements with the U.S., said Monday that foreigners professing a love for the country were not to be trusted.

“I want to send a message to some politicians to please be clear that no foreigner loves the Khmer more than the Khmer love themselves,” he said. “Americans pretended to love the Khmer more than the Khmer loved Khmer in order to topple Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk. There are just a few more days until the 45th anniversary of the coup.”

The U.S. backed the regime that voted out then-Prince Sihanouk as head of state in 1970.

In a statement, Mother Nature said it “deplored” its director’s arrest and accuses the government of violating the 37-day grace period it claims the activist had by law after his visa expired.

“This sends a powerful message to the international community that all foreigners working in Cambodia risk denial of visa or the threat of deportation for criticism of the government,” it said. “It sets a dangerous precedent which further erodes Cambodia’s already shaky democratic freedoms.”

The last known time the government sought to deport a foreigner over an expired visa was in 2005, after expelling the U.K.-based environmental watchdog Global Witness from the country over its reports of police and military complicity in the country’s rampant illegal logging trade. A government report at the time accused the group of calumny.

In its statement, Mother Nature said its work would go on with or without its director in the country.

“Even without Alex we will continue to fight the Areng dam and call upon all nature activists in Cambodia and internationally to join our struggle,” it says.

“The struggle to stop the Chinese Sinohydro Group from constructing the Chhay Areng hydroelectric dam in Cambodia’s pristine Cardamom Mountain Protected Forest will continue.”

The government has downplayed the project’s potential environmental fallout while promoting its likely benefits, including jobs for locals and lower electricity bills.

It has vowed to green-light the project only if ongoing impact assessments warrant it. But opponents are wary, given that the government has already started talking to the families in the valley about relocation and that Sinohydro has signed a deal with a construction company.

Spain does not have an embassy in Cambodia.

The European Union’s ambassador to Cambodia, Jean-Francois Cautain, said his delegation would not comment on the consular issues of member states, including Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s deportation, but added that the E.U. supported an open and transparent debate about the effects of infrastructure projects.

“The E.U. believes that [the] environmental and social impact of infrastructure projects should be thoroughly assessed and shared, and gives way to an inclusive debate among all stakeholders to identify the best possible solutions for the development of Cambodia and the livelihood of all Cambodian people,” he said.

 

 

Rallying and marching to Hun Sen’s House, requesting for new installment of electricity

23 Feb

By:Sovann My, Sahrika  February 23, 2015

This morning, around 100 people from three different communities including SOS community, Boeung Kak Lake and Borei Keila community rallied together and marched to Hun Sen’s house in order to seek for his intervention on the new installment of electricity over their households.
See photos in actions as below:

IMG_8710 IMG_8723 IMG_8725 IMG_8731 IMG_8734

Defiant activist deported

23 Feb

By:Tat Oudom, May Titthara, Daniel Pye and Griff Tapper, The Phnom Penh Post  February 23, 2015

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Outspoken activist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson is arrested on the riverside on Monday. PHOTO BY Mony Sar.

Outspoken environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson has been put on a plane back to spain following his arrest this afternoon along with a colleague from conservation group Mother Nature, according to a text message he sent on Monday night.

At 8:32 pm on Monday night Gonzalez-Davidson sent a text message saying he had already boarded a flight out of Cambodia.

“In the plane now. Ready to take Off, free flight to madrid, courtesy of the kingdom of wonder,” Gonzalez-Davidson said in the message.

Gonzalez-Davidson and San Mala of Mother Nature were detained by immigration officials at about 1.15pm in the Riverside area of Phnom Penh.

General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, confirmed earlier on Monday that authorities intended to deport the Spanish national.

“We are not detaining him [for long], but just to force him out of the Kingdom. We have the right to send him to court and imprison him from one to three months, but we don’t do that … We will send him out tonight,” he said.

An immigration official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to talk to the media, said that the order to deport the conservation campaigner had come directly from Prime Minister Hun Sen following a speech he made on Monday morning.

“Hun Sen made the direct order to arrest Alex after his speech this morning and that, as this is a special case, he will likely be sent to the border soon,” the official said.

Sam Sophal, a UN worker who visited the detainees at the immigration department this afternoon, declined to comment.

Hun Sen earlier in the day warned the defiant activist to leave Cambodia voluntarily or face being blacklisted from the country.

Gonzalez-Davidson – who is facing deportation after the government refused to renew his visa – has vowed to remain in the country despite the fact that his visa expired on Friday.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on Monday the premier also warned NGOs not to rally behind the cause of the embattled co-founder of Mother Nature, lest they face problems of their own.

“Regarding Alex [Gonzalez-Davidson], let the Ministry of Interior take measures. It’s not just foreigners, it’s also Khmers that will be sentenced and other NGOs shouldn’t express much,” Hun Sen said.

“We’ll let him stay until his visa is invalid. So you should leave first then ask for a new visa, it doesn’t matter. [You] don’t need to make this situation get worse. If we deport you, it means [you’re] in the blacklist, that’s it”.

Gonzalez-Davidson had planned to stay for at least 37 days after his visa expired on Friday and pay related fines, but had vowed to remain in Cambodia until he was forced to leave.

A staunch advocate on environmental causes, particularly that of the threatened Areng Valley, he has previously told the Post he is certain that if he leaves the country to obtain a new visa, the government will not let him back in. His situation has attracted huge support on social media, where the fluent Khmer-speaking activist has become something of celebrity.

On Monday morning Gonzalez-Davidson was unavailable to comment but Mala, a co-founder of Mother Nature who was also later arrested, said support for his colleague in the Cambodian community was absolute.

“Hun Sen is going against what the Khmer people want, as we know 100 per cent of Khmers want Alex to stay. [Hun Sen’s actions are] opposite to Khmer people,” he said, pointing out that Alex has grown to be considered “Khmer” by his supporters.

“Our team won’t let Alex leave this country as he is Khmer, lives here, can speak Khmer like a native and, most importantly, is the one who helps to protect the Areng Valley from illegal logging and the hydropower dam”.


Should I stay or should I go?

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said it would be “unethical” for engineering giant Sinohydro to proceed with its studies on the Cheay Areng Dam “given the strong-arm tactics and intimidation being used by the Cambodian government against activists working to protect the Areng Valley.”

In an earlier text message to supporters before his deportation, Gonzalez-Davidson remained defiant. “Stay strong, the battle is yours to be won. For nature, our life,” he wrote.

 

Activist Alex arrested

23 Feb

By:Tat Oudom and May Titthara, The Phnom Penh Post  February 23, 2015

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Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly warned environmental activist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson to leave the country voluntarily or risk making his situation worse on Monday, shortly before he was arrested.

Outspoken environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson and San Mala, a colleague at his NGO Mother Nature, have been arrested by Interior Ministry officers and taken in an unmarked car to the Department of Immigration, a rights group and witnesses have said.

Cheang Sophos, a senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, said that Gonzalez-Davidson was arrested at about 1:15pm at the Fish & Co restaurant in the riverside area of Phnom Penh.

The news of both arrests was confirmed by a spokesman for the Community Legal Education Centre and a witness at the scene.

Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier in the day warned the defiant activist to leave Cambodia voluntarily or be blacklisted from the country.

Gonzalez-Davidson – who is facing deportation after the government refused to renew his visa – has vowed to remain in the country despite the fact that his visa expired on Friday.

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Outspoken activist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson is arrested on the riverside on Monday. Photo By Mony Sar.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on Monday, the premier also warned NGOs not to rally behind the cause of the embattled co-founder of Mother Nature, lest they face problems of their own.

“Regarding Alex [Gonzalez-Davidson], let the Ministry of Interior take measures. It’s not just foreigners, it’s also Khmers that will be sentenced and other NGOs shouldn’t express much,” Hun Sen said.

“We’ll let him stay until his visa is invalid. So you should leave first then ask for a new visa, it doesn’t matter. [You] don’t need to make this situation get worse. If we deport you, it means [you’re] on the blacklist, that’s it”.

Gonzalez-Davidson is legally entitled to stay for 37 days after his visa expiration provided he pays related fines, but he has vowed to remain in Cambodia indefinitely.

A staunch advocate on environmental causes, particularly that of the threatened Areng Valley, Gonzalez-Davidson has previously told the Post he is certain that if he leaves the country to obtain a new visa, the government will not let him back in.

His situation has attracted huge support on social media, where the fluent Khmer-speaking activist has become something of celebrity.

 

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