MonitorsPublished on Dec 01, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII-48

Sri Lanka: Need keep fishing out of shared ‘securitisation’

N Sathiya Moorthy Even as India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval met with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on the side-lines of the fourth maritime security trilateral, also involving Maldives, there is a new urgency for the two nations to resolve the long-standing fishers’ issue. In the context of the increased internationalisation of the shared waters among the three nations for non-state activities like increased incidence of drug-smuggling and anxieties about sea-based terror against the three nations, they need to consider ways to keep livelihood concerns as fishing in shared waters, out of the ‘security dragnet’ before it became too late. “Had a fruitful discussion with Shri @Ajitdovalkumar, NSA #India this evening. National Sec, Sec in the Indian Ocean, new Indian investments, continuation of infrastructure proj. & strengthening bilateral relations between #SriLanka & #India were the areas discussed at the meeting,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tweeted after a separate meeting with the Indian NSA, unconnected to the trilateral. There are multiple issues and shared concerns involving the two countries, but the fishers’ dispute stands on its own feet. While its contribution to lasting peace in bilateral relations may be questionable, given the hovering presence of China and other issues in the background all the time, the potential for greater mischief cannot be gainsaid. Hence, there is an equal and at times greater urgency for addressing the same. This is more so, considering that the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu will be having the State Assembly elections by May next. The issue can become a loud talking point for political parties, especially those opposed to the governments at the Centre and in the State. The ruling AIADMK in the State and the BJP at the Centre are expected to continue with their electoral alliance. That is all the more reason that the two governments in India will have to keep a constant eye at the seats shared with neighbouring Sri Lanka, for the emergence of a new irritant.

New developments

The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) captured a Sri Lankan boat with six crew members, off the southern Thoothukudi coast recently, and recovered huge quantities of drugs, including 100 kg of heroin.  According to ICG officials, the consignment was transferred mid-sea from a Karachi-based dhow, and was bound for Australia. the drugs were with Pakistanis on board, and recovered huge quantities of drugs, said to be bound for Australia. Naturally, the Indian authorities should be concerned as much about a Karachi-based boat being able to come this far down south as much as the seized quantity of drugs. As may be recalled, past terror-attacks in Mumbai, including the 26/11 serial blasts in 2008, involved drugs and perpetrators travelling by sea, and from Karachi. Incidentally, the Thoothukudy seizure happened on the eve of the 12th anniversary of 26/11. Apart from being on the drug smugglers’ global transportation map, the three nations, especially Maldives, has a huge abuse problem nearer home.  During Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s recent visit to Maldives, the two signed a series of cooperation agreement, including one for New Delhi to set up  a much-needed de-addiction centre in the archipelago-nation. There have been constant news reports in Sri Lanka about the navy capturing huge quantities of what is commonly known as ‘Kerala ganja’, obviously originating in the south Indian State. A more recent addition to the smugglers’ list of products from India is turmeric, which the Rajapaksa Government banned overnight, a few months ago. The attempt was to save forex on imports and at the same time, encourage domestic production. There are concerns that India’s unfriendly neighbours in China and Pakistan may seek to exploit the ground situation. Over-stretching security concerns and checks could mean harassing legitimate sea-users, especially fishers from the three nations.

Equally concerned

A joint statement, issued at the end of the trilateral, touched upon the drug issue when it said that the three nations have “agreed to broad-base cooperation by expanding the scope to improve intelligence-sharing and include issues like terrorism, radicalisation, extremism, drugs, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, cybersecurity and effect of climate change on the maritime environment”. The participants, comprising NSA Doval for India, Defence Minister Mariya Didi for Maldives and Defence Secretary, Lt-Gen Kamal Guonaratne for the Sri Lankan host, also discussed cooperation in areas such as maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, joint exercises, maritime threats, marine pollution – and underwater heritage. According to the statement, “they agreed to further strengthen cooperation in dealing with these challenges, to ensure peace and security in the region for common benefit”. Apart from the trilateral, NSA Doval held separate bilateral talks too with his counterparts from the other two countries. As is known, India donated a Dornier fixed-wing aircraft to Maldives, for scanning the seas. Though some strategic analysts have concluded that it was to keep an eye on Chinese maritime/naval movement, the truth is that it is even more for discouraging illegal activities at sea. This is because the request for the Dornier was first made first by jailed former Maldivian President, Abdulla Yameen, considered a friend and associate of China. At his meeting with Sri Lanka’s Gen Gunaratne, NSA Doval discussed a collaborative mechanism to enhance maritime cooperation, intelligence-sharing and capacity-building, as well as ways to curb drug smuggling and responding to natural calamities. During President Gotabaya’s maiden overseas visit after assuming office, to New Delhi in November 2019, India offered a $50-million line-of-credit to fight terrorism and enhance intelligence-gathering in the wake of the Easter Sunday suicide in that country earlier in the year. According to the trilateral joint statement, the three participants will be meeting frequently, and will be tasking their respective Deputy NSAS to meet twice a year, to look at the operational aspects of their decisions. It is in this context, bilateral and trilateral fishers’ issue, as different from issues pertaining to fishing trade between the three, assumes significance.

Keeping fishing off the ‘net’

While every attempt should be made to keep fishing activities out of trilateral or bilateral security dialogues of the kind, that could be achieved only by India and Sri Lanka especially engaging each other on the multiple fishers’ issues between the two nations. As the Indian fishers’ experience at the height of Sri Lanka’s war with the LTTE, or the ‘Sea Tigers’ arm of the terror outfit, showed, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) often mistook them for LTTE vessels, and fired at them. Even in the post-war period, when Indian fishing activities increased both in the narrow Palk Strait and also in the seas linking Nagappattinam and Karikkal to eastern Sri Lanka, SLN was involved in chasing and at times shooting at Indian ‘trespassers’. According to Sri Lankan Tamil fishers, their Indian cousins were also ‘stealing our fish and also destroying fish habitats through their unsustainable practices’. The Indians are known to use bottom-trawlers and nets that are banned in Sri Lanka. India has also banned certain pursein and a few other types of nets, owing to their capacity to destroy fishlings and eggs. Academic disputes remain in India especially in the case of the Palk Strait that they are shared waters with shared fish, and there should be governmental mechanisms in place for shared fish-catch. At a series of recent, ovid time webinars on the subject, in some of which representatives from both sides participated, Sri Lankans were however forceful in reiterating that there cannot be shared fishing of any kind. Some Indian participants, especially those with experience in the management of the seas, shared the view. Colombo-based Sunday Times has since quoted local officials about their sharing information with Indian High Commission, leading to the Tamil Nadu authorities cancelling the licenses of 97 bottom-trawlers in the Rameswaram area for illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters. The newspaper also quoted Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda, a Tamil himself, telling Parliament how the subject formed part of the virtual summit between the two Prime Ministers in September. In a related context, Minister Devananda said how after the second wave of Covid pandemic, fish-consumption has been ‘drastically reduced’ in the country. As is known, New Delhi has been at convincing the Tamil Nadu Government and through them the coastal fishers, to take to deep-sea fishing in a big way, the implementation seems to be lax. However, deep-sea fishing may be the fishing of the future, across the Indian coast, considering also the Centre’s SAGAR kind of port development plans can impede coastal, near-sea and bottom-trawling in different ways. However, all this will require continued non-securitisation of fishing as a bilateral or trilateral issue, especially in view of non-traditional smuggling activities, despite the 26/11 kind of ‘maritime terrorism’. Among the three nations, Sri Lanka has the experience of liquidating the dreaded ‘Sea Tigers’, but for the three nations together to fight similar trends, that the other two acknowledge openly, their seas should be clear of fishers’ dispute involving local populations and their livelihoods.

Myanmar: Second term for NLD

Sreeparna Banerjee The last few weeks have been festive despite much controversy over the outcome of the elections held on 8 November. Predictably, the National League for development (NLD) party is set to rule the country for a second term -- next five years. The party secured 396 of the total 642 parliamentary seats, compared to 390 it won the last term. Myanmar’s Union Parliament consists of the 440-seat Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives) and 224-seat Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities). NLD has secured 60 per cent of the majority in both the houses despite 25 per cent seats being reserved for the military. Though the celebrations are in full swing, the party needs to work on its stint with democracy. After the landslide victory in the first term, it was thought that the party’s prominent face, Aung San Suu Kyi would move in the areas she could with a parliamentary majority: things like repealing repressive laws, releasing political prisoners, creating a free press, trying to improve the economy. Another issue which many spectators believed to be addressed and handled sensitively is the Rohingya issue. But contrary to the hopes of many such issues have remained unaddressed and have even brought the nation in negative lights in front of the international arena. Thus, the second term of the party in office provides the government with a second opportunity to exercise and implement democratic transition which the first term could hardly witness. Despite many shortcomings of the party in the first term, it may be of importance to analyse the eagerness of the masses to vote NLD again back to power.

Cult of Aung San Su Kyi

The domestic imagery of the state counsellor has been viewed by several spectators as being instrumental for yet another victory of the party. She has a special corner in the hearts of the masses. She is seen as the sacrificing and persecuted daughter of a famous leader who has the courage to stand up against the autocratic military government under which the people were forced to live for around five decades. Her image as the mother of the nation holds a very strong core among the masses. While her silence and aloofness over the displaced Rohingyas has tarnished her image overseas, but back home she’s much loved and adored and continues to hold the reins. The stripping off accolades provided to her has been taken as personal insult by the citizens. Moreover, her personal defence of her nation against the allegation of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague last year has helped to enhance her aura in her home nation. During the entire pandemic, her calmness and her daily appearance on social media have struck a major chord with the general population. The economic policies and stimulus packages have been appreciated despite much incompetency shown by the party members. Thus, the imagery holds significance within the domestic politics of the nation and is instrumental for the path breaking victory.

Lack of alternative

If we keep the ethnic parties aside the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been one of the strongest contenders for winning this election. However, the further deterioration of the support from the masses has been owing to its rigid outlook and an allergy to change its methods. Without a doubt, the party has failed to resuscitate itself as a plausible choice to the NLD despite its many attempts to do so in the last year. The preventive and curative measures of COVID-19 were a good opportunity for the members of the party to enhance its position and uplift its image within the people. However, its age-old techniques of coercion and controversial tracking mechanisms, and humiliating experiences people underwent did not go down well with the populace. Also, the ongoing fight with the Arakan Army has been viewed by many as taking precedence over the management of the virus. In addition, while the NLD was in power, the party did not put forward any novel policy to show how it will do things another way if it comes to power. The stalled effort towards the amendment of the constitution additionally is one major disappointment.

Indifference to Rohingyas

It is interesting to note that despite the majority parties’ show less interest towards the ethnic minorities, for instance, the displaced Rohingyas who are considered stateless and thus denied basic rights for sustenance; it seems that the general population is unsympathetic and unconcerned towards the injustice done to them. Currently 126,000 are somehow surviving in the open detention centres where only 16 percent of Rohingya in the camps reported receiving necessary medical care. There is rampant food insecurity and inadequate WASH services. The displaced population within the camps is not even provided with adequate masks and under testing of COVID cases is quite well known. The National League for Democracy government and the military have at various times denied the scale, scope and legitimacy of the suffering and the urgency or necessity of taking responsibility. Unfortunately, despite the ethnic and human rights groups raising questions regarding inadequate services provided to these people, the general masses have never questioned the leaders of the nation regarding this injustice. It may propel one to comment that the populace themselves hold the displaced people as outsiders and are unaffected by their fate. This demonstrates support for a bigoted view that sanctions the exclusion of the Rohingya from the political community of Myanmar. Accordingly, the rights of the displaced Rohingyas become more redundant in the process. The current election features no names of the rohingya in the list of electorates. The current situation is raising human rights and ethnic leaders to demand election to be held at northern Rakhine states.

Bigoted democracy

According to political analysts, the early results showed ethnic parties had won some seats in Kayah, Mon, and Shan states, where many people harbor grievances against the central government, but the overall picture was of another NLD landslide. Thus, it may be safe to suggest that the victory of the party with high popularity reflects the nature of democracy, which is majority oriented democracy where ethnic groups fall at the bottom of the list. While, the ethnic issues and internal peace should be the focus of the new regime; the Rakhine State crisis has been isolated from both the peace process and debates about constitutional reform. In a move to partially address this issue, the NLD’s central executive committee (CEC) is set to meet soon to discuss forming a national unity government and then will hold talks with the ethnic parties. Though this has not been a new move one can only hope the upshot will be fruitful and the voice of the ethnic minority leaders that are stronger in their constituencies will be heard and not drowned within the majority. However, the current trends of politics continue to exclude the Rohingya issue. The next five years will determine whether this inclination can be altered.

Country Reports


Australian troops face dismissal

As announced by the head of the Australian Army Lt-Gen Rick Burr, 13 Australian soldiers have been notified that they may face dismissal, based on a report alleging unlawful killings in Afghanistan. According to the independent report published last week, 39 unarmed civilians were killed by 19 Australian special forces. Lt. Gen. Burr, however, did not identify the 13 soldiers pulled up vis-à-vis the allegation, but said that they were not part of the 19 soldiers facing criminal charges as per the report published.

$ 80-m India projects

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, while speaking at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva, announced a slew of new development projects for the country. He further shared that the projects would focus on large infrastructure development, capacity building, humanitarian assistance, and enhancing trade and investment by improving air and land connectivity. He also announced the launch of Phase IV of the High Impact Community Development Project, which would entail over a 100 projects across the country worth $ 80 million. The agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam, which would provide clean drinking water to millions in Kabul, was also announced at the conference.

Donors renew pledge

At the 2020 Afghanistan Conference held in Geneva, international donors pledged around US$ 13 billion as reconstruction support for the next four years. The conference witnessed the participation of over 70 countries and 30 international organisations that offered US$ 3.3 billion for the year 2021, agreeing that the commitment would remain about the same every year for the next four years. The donors, however, set conditions for the fulfilment of their commitment, which included protection of human rights, tackling corruption, rule of law and gender equality.


Plea on OIC trade pact

At the 36th session of the sending standing committee for economic and commercial cooperation of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi urged the leaders of member-countries to fully implement the preferential trade agreement. The minister observed that implementation of the agreement will contribute in increasing of trade and business among member-countries.

$ 50 m aid from S Korea

South Korea has agreed to provide $50 million financial assistance to Bangladesh to help the country tackle challenges as a fallout of Covid-19 pandemic. The financial assistance will in the form of loan under the under the Economic Development Cooperation Fund. Bangladesh has been seeking financial assistance to various donor agencies and countries to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.


Diplomatic ties with Germany

Bhutan and the Federal Republic of Germany established diplomatic relations on 25 November through an Exchange of Verbale Notes between Ambassador of Bhutan to India, Maj. Gen. V. Namgyel, and Ambassador of Germany to India, Walter J. Lindner, at the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in New Delhi. Even in the absence of diplomatic relations, Germany had been supporting Bhutan’s socio-economic development since the 1970s. With the establishment of diplomatic relations with Germany, Bhutan now has diplomatic relations with 53 countries and the European Union.

Parliament to debate new laws

The ongoing Parliament session is scheduled to debate  the Entitlement and Service Conditions (Amendment) Act for the Holders, Members and Commissioner of Constitutional Offices, the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill of Bhutan and the Fiscal Incentives Bill, among others. The House will redeliberate the Charter (Amendment) of the SAARC Development Fund 2020, BIMSTEC convention on cooperation in international terrorism, and transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking. The session will conclude on 14 December.


PM visits Covid vaccine hubs

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited India's top vaccine hubs last week to review the progress of coronavirus vaccine manufacturing process. PM’s his three-city vaccine tour comprised of the pharma major Zydus Cadila's plant in Gujarat, Bharat BioTech, which is working on Covaxin, pitched as India's first indigenous vaccine candidate in Hyderabad and Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune, which has partnered with global pharma giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University for a COVID19 vaccine. PM’s office said that the visit has been conducted so that Modi gets a "first-hand perspective of the preparations, challenges and roadmap in India's endeavour to vaccinate its citizens".

Ex-Assam CM passes away

Former chief minister of Assam and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi passed away last week due to post-COVID19 complications. A six-time MP, Gogoi was the longest serving chief minister of Assam from 2001-2016. He is credited with ensuring peace in the violence-ridden state that was also facing a tough time due to economic stagnation. Rich tributes were paid to Gogoi’s long and eventful political legacy by the top political leaders of the country. Gogoi was cremated will full state honours in Assam.


End Islamophobia: Shahid

Addressing the OIC ministerial conference on the virtual mode, titled “United against Terrorism for Peace and Development”, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid asked member-nations to work unitedly to end Islamophobia, which was affecting the lives of ordinary Muslims across the world. He highlighted the various issues facing the Islamic community and called for the greater unity and solidarity in dealing with terrorism, and begin with an unconditional rejection of terrorism in all forms and manifestations. Shahid also spoke of the situation in Palestine, noting that the Palestinian people now face more hardships with the COVID-19 pandemic, struggling both for their freedom and against the pandemic.

Yameen, one year in jail

Ahead of his completing one year in jail in a money-laundering case on 27 November, leaders and cadres of his PPM-PNC coalition staged protests, violating the Covid protocols in place, demanding his release and asking the Government of President Ibrahim Solih, not to foist fake cases against him. The second demand in particular pertains to reports that the Government was taking up fresh money-laundering cases against Yameen, even as the Supreme Court unfroze his bank accounts some time ago and the High Court reserved verdict on his appeal against the lower court’s conviction.


Rakhine must vote

Many activists and citizens feel that Myanmar should hold elections in areas where voting was cancelled this month due to armed conflicts and other security threats, including in Rakhine state, which has seen a halt in fighting since general elections. Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) won a second five-year mandate on 8 November. The vote was followed by an NLD outreach to ethnic-based parties and gestures toward peace talks from the country’s powerful military, which supported holding elections in areas that didn’t vote.

Indian nationals returned

On 26 November, as many as 34 Indian nationals who have been serving jail terms in Myanmar for different cases were deported to India by the Myanmar Government. The Indian nationals were handed over to authorities in Manipur at the Moreh border town in Tengnoupal district of Manipur. Most had been arrested beyond the free movement regime without proper document and were returned back via the same checkpoint. This move hopes to strengthen the relations between both the nations.


Indian FS discusses ties

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the Indian Foreign Secretary was recently in the Himalayan country. This was one of the most crucial visits to strengthen the Indo-Nepal bilateral dynamics after the map conundrum of 2019. Shringla, apart from inaugurating a monastery, also spoke to his Nepalese counterpart about several long-standing differences like the boundary issue along with moving ahead to better collaborative efforts. COVID-19 and the resultant mutual cooperation was another vital theme of discussion. This visit miay have important connotations for the Nepalese elections.

Sri Lanka

Indian NSA meets President

India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and their discussions focused on regional security, the President’s Office said in a statement. According to the statement, they discussed ensuring stability and peace in the Indian Ocean Region, and also increasing defence corporation between the two countries. The two also reviewed the progress made by the India-funded development projects. In his meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the latter asked NSA Doval for India to extend the housing and other funded projects for the North and the Upcountry Tamil areas to cover the (Sinhala) South. Reports said that Doval responded positively.

Govt disputes downgrading

The Finance Ministry has disputed the downgrading by Fitch Ratings, which expressed concerns about the nation’s external debt repayment capacity over the medium-term, financing options and debt sustainability risks, at a time when the newly-appointed Government has just announced its medium term policy framework in its Budget 2020.“We do not accept this downgrade as it fails to recognize the robust policy framework of the new Government for addressing the legacy issues, including the concerns raised by Fitch Ratings, and ensuring ongoing economic recovery and macroeconomic stability of the Country,” the Finance Ministry said.



Opinion Pieces

Steve Chapman, “Obama’s Memoir Highlights his Afghanistan Failure”, The Chicago Tribune, 25 November 2020 Tahir Qadiry, “2020 Afghanistan Conference: A Reinforced Commitment”, Observer Research Foundation, 25 November 2020


Afghanistan Times, “Daesh Still a Big Threat”, 25 November 2020 The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Trump’s Withdrawal Plan Marks His Failure in Afghanistan”, 25 November 2020


Opinion Pieces

Meenakshi Ganguly, “ Why is it so difficult for Bangladeshi women to get justice?”, The Daily Star, 25 November 2020 Fahmida Khatun, “What the new trade bloc means for Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 23 November 2020 Eresh Omar Jamal, “How Bangladesh can benefit from China’s economic recovery”, The Daily Star, 22 November 2020



Kuensel, “A new era of cooperation”, 24 November 2020


Opinion Pieces

Barkha Dutt, “Why Ahmed Patel mattered in Indian politics”, hindustantimes, 27 November 2020 Yashovardhan Azad and Arun Chaudhury, “Charting a reformed future for the police”, hindustantimes, 26 November 2020 Pulapre Balakrshnan, “Some of the COVID-19 mortality was avoidable”, The Hindu, 24 November 2020 Anand Krishnan, “In vaccine race last lap, the key steps for India”, The Hindu, 23 November 2020


The Indian Express, “Talk to the farmer”, 28 November 2020 The Indian Express, “Roll it back”, 26 November 2020 The Hindu, “Moment of reckoning”, 26 November 2020 The Telegraph, “Ask first: CBI, a 'caged parrot'”, 23 November 2020


Opinion Pieces

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO, “Act now against shadow pandemic of violence against women”, The Edition, 26 November 2020


Opinion Pieces

Dwight Jason Ronan, “Making Myanmar’s Markets Work for Safe Farmers”, The Irrawaddy, 27 November 2020 Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint, “Myanmar’s Ethnic Parties Cautiously Optimistic About Outreach From Victorious NLD”, The Irrawaddy, 25 November 2020 Aung Zaw, “How Myanmar’s Foreign Policy Is Likely to Evolve in the NLD’s Second Term”, The Irrawaddy, 25 November 2020 Htet Naing Zaw, “NLD Election Win Raises New Questions Over Myanmar Military Chief’s Future”, The Irrawaddy, 24 November 2020 Kyaw Zwa Moe, “What Another NLD Victory Means for Myanmar and the World”, The Irrawaddy, 23 November 2020


Opinion Pieces

Mahendra P. Lama, “Nepal and India: Interdependence dynamics,” The Kathmandu Post, 24 November2020 Anjali Subedi, “When will Nepal rise?Republica, 19 November 2020 Mahabir Paudyal, “What is Nepali Congress thinking about China?Republica, 14 November 2020


The Himalayan Times, “Some relief,” 23 November 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

D B S Jeyaraj, “Gotabaya Govt’s pre-emptive strike against LTTE Maaveerar Naal”, Daily Mirror Online, 28 November 2020 N Sathiya Moorthy, “A Budget for the pandemic”, Ceylon Today, 24 November 2020 Jehan Perera, “People’s continued trust in Govt should not be in vain”, The Island, 24 November 2020 K K S Perera, “Is section of Sangha trying to subjugate President?”, Daily Mirror Online, 23 November 2020 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Forgotten Tamil unity talk”, Colombo Gazette, 23 November 2020


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani
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