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Rohingya repatriation: Has the world forgotten about the Rohingya crisis?

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Rohingya refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Myanmar (file photo). IOM/Mohammed

In August 2017, the Myanmar army committed atrocities to the Rohingya people in Arakan state of Myanmar including rape, torture, burning the houses, killing. To escape from death, the Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh. The Rohingya crisis has been identified as one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.The United Nations (UN) has defined the crisis as the ‘textbook case’ of ethnic violence.

And considering the sufferings of the Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh opened doors for them from a humanitarian ground. Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, including the Rohingyas who came earlier (before August 2017) in the country. Notably, Bangladesh is providing shelter, food, medicare and other facilities/services to the Rohingyas for a long time. The local people of Cox’s Bazar also showed great sympathy to those refugees sacrificing their lands, forests and other resources. Bangladesh has made tremendous sacrifices, including the forests. Initially, the country made Rohingya camps in 6,500 acres of land. It is already three years passed. But a successful Rohingya repatriation seems a dream to many given the current contexts. In this article, I attempt to show why successful repatriation is essential, why it failed, and the role of the international community in this regard.

Why repatriation necessary?

First, Rohingyas are creating an extra burden for Bangladesh, given the socio-economic realities of the country. Notably, being one of the densely populated countries in the world with limited resources, it becomes a daunting task for Bangladesh to continue its wholehearted supports for the Rohingyas in the days to come.

Second, Rohingya refugees have clear security implications for Bangladesh and beyond. It is reported that Rohingya criminals are becoming involved in the deterioration of the law and order situation in Cox’s Bazar, which becomes a grave concern for the locals. The local people who showed wholehearted support to the Rohingyas are worried now due to the increased criminal activities by the Rohingya criminals. It is reported that there are instances of murders in the Rohingya camp. In addition, after the murder of Jubo League leader Farooq by the Rohingya criminal, there were tensions among the locals.

It is argued that the longer the refugees stay in the refugee camps, the more likely they become a threat to peace (cited in Bariagaber, 1999: 605). Thus, prolonging the Rohingya repatriation will be problematic for Bangladesh, which merits serious attention from the international community. In this context, successful repatriation of the Rohingyas becomes essential.

Third,one can also argue that there are regional and international security implications of the Rohingya crisis. The international community can also consider this factor and take significant steps to resolve the Rohingya crisis and provide a better and secure life to the Rohingyas.

Finally, as a human being, Rohingyas deserve a better and secured life with dignity and fundamental human rights. Thus, ensuring their basic human rights becomes a moral responsibility of the international community.

Why Rohingya repatriation failed?

Bangladesh-Myanmar signed a repatriation deal on November 23, 2017, though no progress has been observed in making repatriation successful. On July 29, 2019, Bangladesh handed over a list of 55, 000 Rohingyas for verification for repatriation. Myanmar only cleared 3,450 Rohingyas for beginning the repatriation. Notably, Rohingya refugee repatriation to Myanmar has been failed twice, one in November 2018 and another in August 2019. Against this backdrop, one can ask: What factors have accounted for to the failures of Rohingya refugee’s repatriation to Myanmar? To answer this question, one can identify the following factors.

First, the absence of conducive conditions/environment in Myanmar is the major hindrance to the successful repatriation of the Rohingyas. Myanmar government showed apathy towards repatriation. One can also argue that the Myanmar government did not show firm commitments in the repatriation process. Though in the declaratory postures they are showing the international community that they are interested in the repatriation, when it comes to operational policies, they are reluctant in the repatriation process through not creating favourable conditions/ conducive environment for the Rohingyas. Rohingyas are scared that if they are back, the Myanmar army will kill them.

Second, the failure of the international community to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar becomes another critical factor.It seems that international community has confined its role in providing reliefs, foods, healthcare services, money to the Rohingya refugees and sometimes made an occasional visit to the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar and took photographs and shared those (photos) in the social media and beyond. To a larger extent, the international community has bypassed their key responsibility to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homeland through pressurizing Myanmar. Thus, it will not be wrong to claim that the international community has totally failed to create a conducive environment in Myanmar which makes security concerns among the Rohingyas. Thus, those Rohingyas are not interested in to repatriate in Myanmar.

The most concerning is that it seems that the Rohingya issue is losing interest in the international community. There is already shrinkage of funds for the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. If the international community totally fails to repatriate the Rohingyas, it will create a disastrous situation for Bangladesh. It is well known that Bangladesh is a densely populated country in the world with limited resources, as noted earlier. Thus, the country cannot afford to continue its supports to the Rohingyas. In addition, there is a stronger possibility of conflicts between the Rohingyas and local people in the days to come given the socio-economic realities of the society.

One can argue that the United Nations has so far failed to pressurize Myanmar and create a conducive environment for the repatriation. Considering the narrowly defined self-interest, Russia, China, India whole-heartedly supports the Myanmar government. Though China and India bear dissimilarities in many issues, in the case of Rohingya issue, they maintain a similar stand, supporting the Myanmar government. Notably, Myanmar is a crucial state for China’s Belt and Road Initiative project, while the country is key to India’s act east policy. In addition, the UNHCR, ASEAN, EU, USA, Japan also failed to pressurize the Myanmar government and facilitate the Rohingya repatriation.

Third, the political economy of the refugees/NGOs is also responsible for the failure of the repatriation process of the Rohingyas. Khaled Muhiuddin (2019) writes that foreign aid ‘is prolonging the crisis. It is common sense that if Rohingya refugees are having a better life in Bangladeshi camps than the one they experienced in Myanmar, they will see little reason for going back to Myanmar. That is why efforts to ensure safety for Rohingyas in Myanmar are more important than providing comfort to them in the Bangladeshi camps’. Thus, foreign aid is benefiting both the NGOs and the refugees.

Around 150 international and local NGOs are working in the 34 Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. It is claimed that the political economy of the NGOs also works as a major hindrance to the Rohingya repatriation process. A resident of Cox’s Bazar, Rafiqul Islam Rafiq claims that various NGOs, including the UN agencies, demotivate the Rohingyas to repatriate (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, president of BAPA and CAB, Cox’s Bazar contends that both international and local NGOs are telling the Rohingyas that this [Cox’s Bazar] is your place, it was once your place, a part of Arakan State. Since this is your place, you do not need to leave this place (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). A. N. M. Helal Uddin, president, civil society forum, Cox’s Bazar claims that if these Rohingyas leave, their (NGOs) business will be stopped. They are motivating the national crisis. The government should find out those NGOs and take actions against them (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019).

Fourth, the economic interest of some local people also works as a hindrance to the repatriation. A resident called Jasim Uddin points out that the Rohingya refugees have created a huge business for the hotel, restaurant, flat owners who do not want that Rohingyas leave Cox’s Bazar(Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). He claims that economic interest is the main factor of these owner classes, who devoid of patriotism. Notably, 1000 locally made weapons including knifes were seized from the NGO office SHED (Society for Health Extension and Development) who was working in the Rohingya camp (Osmany, 2019). Notably, SHED failed to provide any legal documents i.e. operating license to use these weapons (Aziz, 2019). Thus, it becomes important to monitor vigorously and ensure the accountability of the local and international NGOs who seek greater profits from prolonging the Rohingya crisis.

Fifth, one can also look at the role of the scholars and scholarship critically to resolve the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya refugee crisis did not receive serious attention from the intellectual community. Even the role of Bangladeshi scholars is minimal in producing serious scholarship on the issue. The scholars cannot avoid their responsibility to resolve the crisis.

Finally, international media also failed to internationalize the issue and influence the policy formulations regarding the crisis. In the initial days, though the mainstream global media provided enough attention to the issue, in the latter days, they totally forgot the crisis. I wonder, if the same thing happens in the developed world, would the global media response be the same?

To conclude, Bangladesh, alone cannot resolve the Rohingya crisis. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh strongly contends in addressing the 75thUnited Nations General Assembly that the Rohingya crisis has been created by Myanmar and thus has to resolve the crisis by Myanmar. In this case, since Myanmar is not interested in resolving the crisis, it is the international community that can pressurize the Myanmar government and facilitate successful repatriation. In fact, the role of the international community, including the major powers, international media becomes essential to encourage Rohingya repatriation. The role of the scholars and scholarship also becomes necessary. The bottom line is that for the greater cause of humanity, the international community must come forward to pressurize Myanmar government and facilitate successful repatriation. The world needs to remember that Bangladesh has already done a lot to the Rohingya refugees. Now, it is the responsibility of the international community. Isn’t it?

Md. Shariful Islam is an assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Currently, he is on study leave and pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi. Email: shariful_ruir[at]ru.ac.bd

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South Asia

More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar

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Tannisha Avarrsekar. Image source: startocure.com

Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.

Why did you start Lokatantra?

I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.

I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.

I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.

Tell us more about Lokatantra.

Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.

On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.

The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.

What do you think can make journalism more neutral?

More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.

Why is equal representation in politics important?

Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.

How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?

Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.

We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.

Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.

As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?

I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.

A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.

What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?

The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.

It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.

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India: Metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies

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When European Disinfo Lab exposed India’s disinformation network, India apologized. But, the portents are that India continued spreading disinformation, nay stark lies against Pakistan. India’s usual modus operandi was  to employ dubious  thinktanks and journalists of doubtful credentials to tarnish Pakistan’s image. For instance, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a registered Canadian charity, published a Pakistan-bashing report ‘Khalistan—A project of Pakistan’ which found mention in almost all leading Indian newspapers. Now, Indian government  has told its Supreme Court that farmers’ protest in India are being pro-Pakistan and pro-Khalistan elements. The SC has called upon Indian government to submit an affidavit about its allegation along with corroborative evidence.

Another pro-India “thinktank”, spouting venom against Pakistan is the “International Terrorism Observatory”. It is chaired by Roland Jacquard. Prestigious French newspaper Le Monde (The World) pointed out in 2015; he is the only member “without publications, without a website, without postal address and without any legal existence”. He runs a bookstore stacked with books on “networks of Islamist terrorism’. According to journalists Didier Bigo, Laurent Bonelli and Thomas Deltombe, Roland Jacquard’s claim of being a media expert is questionable.

 India-sponsored think tank  International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies run by Srivastava Group of India shot into limelight when it paid for the travel and accommodation of an unofficial far-right delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians to Srinagar on October 30, 2013. The trip was arranged by Indian intelligence surrogate, Madi Sharma, who posed as a self-styled “international business broker”.

India’s metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies

It appears India has now realized that its disinformation is losing clout. So, instead of banking on dubious journalists and think tanks, it has begun to churn out lies against Pakistan through its own agencies, including the prestigious India Today.

Almost all media outlets and TV channels disseminated the false report that an ex diplomat  has admitted that India did actually kills 300 men in Balakot  air strike on February 26, 2019. Some channels have retracted the false rreport while others are staying mum.

What did the news agency ANI say?

The statement falsely attributed to diplomat Agha Hilaly was carried by several news organisation, including India Today, and was based on an input by news agency ANI. The News agency ANI quoted Pakistani diplomat Agha Hilaly as saying, “India crossed the international border and did an act of war in which at least 300 were reported dead. Our target was different from theirs. We targeted their high command. That was our legitimate target because they are men of the military. We subconsciously accepted that a surgical strike — a limited action — did not result in any casualty. Now we have subconsciously told them that, whatever they will do, we’ll do only that much and won’t escalate.”

Truth

The video was misattributed and the quote was actually a snippet of a larger quote made by former diplomat Zafar Hilaly in a television debate.The full quote by Zafar Hilaly is as follows:: What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people. Coincidentally, they [Pakistani people] did not die and India bombed a football field. “Hilaly has also said that the viral video is edited and does not represent his full quote. He also shared the full video on his Twitter account. A fact-check by “Alt News” found that the comments were misreported and the ex-diplomat who made the comments was “Zafar Hilaly”.In the debate posted on YouTube by HUM news as part of a program called “Agenda Pakistan”, Hilaly  had said, “What you did, India, was an act of war. India ne jo kiya, international boundary ko cross karke ek act of war. Jisme kam se kam 300 logo ko unhone marna tha. (What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people).”Zafar Hilaly also tweeted a video saying his statement was spliced and edited. Alt News said a version of the video posted on Twitter had an abrupt cut “around 0:7-0:9 seconds” and the word “marna (to kill)” sounds as if Hilaly said “mara (killed)”. The news has since been removed by websites.

Conclusion

A basic principle of disinformation is ‘never lose sight of truth’.  A half-truth or even .005 per cent to 5% untruth, a twisted truth, or sometimes a truth concealed may appeal more to readers or viewers than a stark lie.  Goebels is not alive to tell that he never said ‘the bigger the lie the more it will be believed’. Pathological lying is not the art of disinformation. Psychologists would tell that, even under stress, a mature person would suppress truth rather than tell a lie.

Richard Deacon  says,  ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8). 

He gives several example of disinformation including sublimininal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed, something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’. (Ibid. p. 9).

Role of India’s foremost intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in conducting disinformation campaigns has, by and large, remained hidden from the media watch.  It is now being exposed. RAW is burning midnight oils to exploit USA’s sensitivity about certain ticklish subjects like Hawala transactions for funneling funds to “terrorists’, nuclear proliferation, use of missiles to hit aircraft, and development of chemical biological and nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

The RAW’s disinformation campaign, often bordering on lying, is well reflected by innocuous-looking news (unsupported by reference to information sources) that appear, from time to time, in Indian media. Hilaly debacle is a case in point.

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Casteism inside RSS, and its’ abhorrence

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Dr Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, believed that ‘RSS is a dangerous association’. The latest to join this belief is Bhanwar Maghwanshi, a former RSS worker and also the author of the book ‘I could not be Hindu’ (2020)

***

At the age of 13, Bhanwar Maghwanshi joined RSS. Instead of playing, learning and exploring, he opted to do something ‘bigger’ in his life. But, unfortunately, he was shocked to learn how RSS practices casteism without using the term ‘Dalit’ in its shakhas. He was active with RSS, as a sevak, during the so-called Janmbhoomi movement of Ayodhya in late 1980s. In his panchayat in Rajasthan, he never listened to azan or interacted with any Muslim – in person, but developed strong abhorrence for the Muslims when he was learning ‘skills’ in RSS. His dad was a Congress activist and discouraged him to join RSS (because, for him, RSS would never want ‘brahmin’ sevaks to sacrifice their lives) but BhanwarMeghwanshi – on positive note – entered RSS.

RSS is a hydra of Hindutva, Hindu Nationalism and Hindu Rashtra. BJP is its outcome. Since 2014, India is witnessing a systemic degradation of free speech, social equity, human development, economy, environment and women safety. The Modi government came to power in 2014 chanting ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ slogan but unfortunately it transformed India into ‘new’ India with the maxims of ‘minimum governance, maximum statism’. One of the oldest, yet contemporary, [social] statism is casteism. It’s 21st century and the elements of caste as a whole continues to haunt the democratic features of India. A recent NCRB data suggests that India is unsafe for Dalit and Adivasi girls. There’s an increase of 300% in hate crimes. The architect of India’s constitution Dr Ambedkar was ‘untouchable’ and had come to conclusions that Hinduism can’t be reformed. He chose Buddhism in October 1956 and found emancipation through the teachings of Buddha. The same is the case with BhanwarMeghwanshi who is an Ambedkarite today, learned a different version of Ambedkar in his RSS years. Even God knows that RSS has appropriated Dr Ambedkar conveniently, for its own political agenda.

Bhanwar’s ethnographic encounter in his book “I could not be Hindi – the story of a Dalit in the RSS” is essential to refute the pseudo-science of RSS or Hindutva trollers on the subjects of Islam, untouchability and other narratives. The book sheds a detailed light on what RSS is, casteism in the RSS, and how RSS makes its ground in the society. Navayana Publishing House mustered the courage to publish the book, unlike other ‘popular’ publishing houses, according to Bhanwar. He dreamt of becoming a ‘pracharak’ but was stopped to become a ‘vistarak’ because of his ‘caste’ and this is where he learned that he is a lesser Hindu than other Hindus in RSS. He left RSS after a very bitter experience. He writes, “We had organised an event of Sangh in my hometown, I was heading the event as I was the most active and passionate worker in my area. I had planned to make food at my home only for the senior guests and the priests who would join the event. My father strongly opposed and said that they would never eat food cooked by us. I did not listen to him. I cooked good Rajasthani food with pure ghee and invited them. They did not come home but said that ‘you just pack the food we will eat it in the next village, as we are running out of time’. I packed the food for them, I later learned that they did not have my food but threw it in a naala (gutter). As the district chief, I got angry with them and asked the reason, but did not get satisfactory answers. I was reminded of my father’s words that ‘people like us did not own any place in the Sangh’, it solely belongs to the upper castes.”

The book smashes the rosy picture of RSS and explains that the Dalits’ role in RSS is mere foot soldiers for the communal polarisation and Hindutva activities. In an interview to Caravan magazine (14th March 2020), Bhanwar Meghwanshi made it clear that “In the eyes of the Sangh, the Hindu Rashtra is a Brahmin nation with the varna system, the four vedas and the Manusmriti. The Sangh wants to run the nation on this very base. I feel that in the Sangh’s Hindu Rashtra, shudras or untouchables will be slaves, and Muslims, heretics or foreigners, will be given a second-class status.”

In this memoir, Bhanwar also writes that in his village, low caste people joined the RSS in large numbers: “Of the fifty or so children who attended the shakha in my village, most were OBCs—Kumhar, Jat, Gurjar, Mali and so on.” They joined because of the Sanskritization processes and because of the games they played in the shakha, but they resided for ideological reasons too as, slowly, they learnt that “hindukhatre main hai” (Hindus are in danger) because of Muslims and Christians. He also recalls that, while in the Sangh, he “heard a lot about weapons being stored in the basements of mosques” and that getting rid of the Babri Masjid was like “a second battle for independence”.

Bhanwar is not new in this race. A sarcastic letter authored by a Dalit activist P.D. Shelare, on 13/1/1934, published in ‘Janata’ divulged about casteism or caste segregation practices in some shakhas of RSS. Shelareratiocinated that RSS was aware of the practices but it did not react. It’s obvious to learn that Hinduism is incomplete without casteism. The caste practices made me leave Hinduism too, on 30th December 2018. I adopted Buddhism, on par with Dr Ambedkar’s teachings. While reading the book, I could resonate my experiences too. In the current landscape, interactions and social relations have changed a lot. Caste dynamics too. To add to the woes, love jihad law will further strengthen more endogamy and discourage intercaste marriages. Dining with Dalits alone would not bring about social changes. The ‘safe space’ for the dissents and Dalits is diminishing, whereas love for hatred is openly normalised. 

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