Afghans recover three kidnapped poll workers
July 23, 2005
KABUL (Reuters) - Three Afghan election workers who were kidnapped by suspected Taliban or al Qaeda militants have been found unharmed in the northeastern province of Nooristan, an official said on Saturday.
Mohammad Yusouf, secretary for the governor of Nooristan, said the men were found in a house following a major hunt by security officials in the Kamdesh district where they were abducted three nights ago.
"We have received reports from the police chief that the three men have been found, but none of the kidnappers has been arrested," he told Reuters.
The abduction was the latest in a series of violent incidents in the approach to Sept. 18 parliamentary polls, the next big stage on Afghanistan's difficult path to stability.
The three men were seized from a villager's house after the end of a voter registration program in the rugged region.
Yusouf said the victims could not recognize the kidnappers as they had covered their faces, but said they spoke in a local language.
"We suspect al Qaeda or Taliban were behind the kidnappings," Yusouf earlier told Reuters.
A woman Afghan election worker was wounded last week in an attack on a voter registration center in the same district. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack or the abductions.
Separately, a district judge and a senior district official were killed by suspected Taliban militants in two attacks in the southern province of Kandahar, one late on Friday and the other early on Saturday, officials said.
Taliban officials could not be reached for comment about the incidents.
Members of the radical Islamic government ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001 have threatened to derail the polls, and warned Afghans against contesting them or registering as voters.
Three Afghan government figures killed in Taliban stronghold
Sat Jul 23, 8:03 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Suspected Taliban insurgents shot dead a judge in violence-plagued southern Afghanistan, where a government official and a policeman were also killed in separate attacks.
Two gunmen killed Qazi Namatullah, a district judge and cleric in Panjwayi district of Kandahar province, as he walked to a mosque for morning prayers in Kandahar city, said Panjwayi district governor Niaz Mohammed Sarhadi.
"The Taliban were riding a motorbike, and they managed to escape the area," he told AFP in the city, about 500 kilometres (300 miles) south of Kabul, that has remained a hotbed of Taliban support since the hardline regime' ouster.
The same morning, Mohammed Shafi, the district administration chief of Shawalikot, was killed by a remote-controlled bomb blast at the gate of his family home, district police chief Abdul Malik told AFP on Saturday.
"At this stage we don't know who was behind the attack," he said. "We are investigating the case."
In an attack early Friday, a highway policeman was killed on the road to the western city of Herat, just outside Kandahar in Zhari district, Kandahar police chief Mohammed Hakim told AFP.
Taliban spokesman Mullah Abdul Latif Hakimi -- who has claimed the movement was responsible for the killings of four pro-government clerics in the past two months -- was not available for comment on Namatullah's death.
More than three years after their ouster by US-led military forces, the Taliban have stepped up attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan ahead of landmark parliamentary elections in September.
More than 770 people have been killed in political violence in Afghanistan so far this year compared with 850 in all of 2004.
'Taleban' shoot dead Afghan judge
BBC News / Saturday, 23 July, 2005
Suspected Taleban gunmen have shot dead a judge in southern Afghanistan, in the latest apparent attack on government officials ahead of September elections.
Judge Qazi Namatullah was killed by two men on a motorbike on Saturday in Panjwayi district, Kandahar Province.
Local official Mohammad Shafi also died on Saturday, a day after being hurt by a bomb in nearby Shawalikot district.
Meanwhile, tribal leaders have helped free three election workers kidnapped in north-eastern Nuristan Province.
In the last two months at least four pro-government clerics have been killed in southern Afghanistan by suspected Taleban gunmen.
Observers say the killings, and attacks on mosques, are part of a campaign of violence intended to deter Afghans from participating in the elections.
Panjwai district head Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi told the BBC the Taleban were to blame for killing the judge.
A man claiming to speak for the Taleban said the group killed the judge because he worked for the government.
The Taleban say they also carried out Friday's attack in Shawalikot.
The election workers in Nuristan were conducting a voter registration programme.
They were kidnapped in Kamdesh district, about 80km (50 miles) from the Pakistan border, a few days ago, a spokesman for the regional governor said.
Afghan complaints over Taliban await Pakistan's PM
By Sayed Salahuddin Sat Jul 23, 6:57 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will visit Kabul on Sunday amid growing Afghan irritation over Taliban infiltration across its southern border in the run up to the Sept. 18 parliamentary polls.
Aziz will discuss trade, investment and security issues with President Hamid Karzai during the one-day visit, Afghan officials said.
There has been a surge in Taliban activity in south and southeast Afghanistan in the past few months, dashing hopes of U.S. commanders that the insurgency was fading.
Scores of people have been killed in the violence, including 30 U.S. soldiers since March, and many in Afghanistan blame militants from across the border in Pakistan for the unrest.
"There have been infiltrations from the other side of the border for attacks here," a senior Afghan government official said on the condition of anonymity.
"The attacks are organized there and people come for carrying them out from Pakistan. Senior Taliban live and operate in Pakistan," he added.
Diplomats say while much of the infiltration has been in Afghanistan's Paktika province neighboring Pakistan's restive North Waziristan tribal agency, several incidents have occurred well away from the border and could have been carried out by Taliban fighters or Islamist allies based inside Afghanistan.
Pakistan's army warned tribesmen in North Waziristan a week ago that they would begin an offensive unless foreign militants were evicted from the region. At least 17 foreign militants, including women and children, were killed last Sunday after refusing to surrender.
U.S.-led forces based in Afghanistan had killed 24 suspected militants on July 14 on the Pakistan side of the border, again in North Waziristan.
Pakistan used to be the main supporter of the Taliban government in Afghanistan before U.S.-backed forces ousted it from power in 2001, after its refusal to surrender al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
While Pakistan has arrested hundreds of al Qaeda-linked militants after President Pervez Musharraf joined a global war on terrorism, there have been few arrests of Taliban fighters, many of whom fled to Pakistan.
Earlier this week, Pakistani security forces arrested a handful of Taliban officials from an Afghan refugee camp at Akora Khattack, a town 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the capital Islamabad.
Pakistani newspapers quoted unnamed sources as saying that Mawlavi Abdul Kabir -- a deputy of the Taliban's elusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar -- was among those arrested, but senior Pakistani officials were unable to confirm this.
Everything to play for in Afghanistan
Associated Press in Kabul Saturday July 23, 2005 via The Guardian
With the spin of a wheel, one Afghan child might land up in an ambush by gunmen. Another could be taken to the safety of a health clinic or classroom.
These are all scenarios 10- to 14-year-olds must confront in the Road to Peace, a board game devised by the UN. About 10,000 copies are being distributed to war-affected children, former child soldiers and refugee families, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN assistance mission.
It comes in two languages, Dari and Pashto, and aims to teach children about the peace process and reconstruction of their country.
The foldable cardboard game is illustrated with a swirling path from one corner, the Past - with tanks, explosions and a Taliban-style execution - to another, the Future, with cheery family scenes, factories and a river.
Along the way, up to six players take turns spinning a wheel and moving their pieces.
If they land on a negative scenario, such as girls being turned away from school, they move backwards.
Landing on a positive square, such as the signing of the Bonn agreement in 2001, lets a player advance.
EDITORIAL: Pakistani Link to London Attacks
via Afghan Press Monitor (No 116, 22 Jul 05) - published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting
(Cheragh, July 18, 2005) The London bombings have thrown the spotlight back onto Pakistan, where Islamic militants continue to thrive despite a massive crackdown on Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Analysts say extremism is alive and well in Pakistan, and reports that three of the London suicide bombers were British Muslims of Pakistani origin have come as no surprise to security officials. Pakistan has been at the heart of the "war on terror" since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and especially after President Pervez Musharraf's decision to abandon support for the Taleban. Most of those involved in recent terrorist acts have passed through training camps in Pakistan, and while many have been shut down there are fears that a number of them are still active.
(Cheragh is an independent daily run by the Development and Democracy Association.)
Taleban Show Renewed Strength
Is sudden surge in insurgent attacks a short-term push to disrupt September elections, or a real sign the Islamic militia is reviving?
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Wahidullah Amani in Kabul (ARR No. 179, 22-Jul-05)
With nearly daily reports of clashes and bloodshed, no one disputes the fact that there has been a dramatic surge in violence in Afghanistan in recent months. But opinion is divided on whether this is the last gasp of the Taleban, or the start of a new aggressive phase of warfare.
For the remnants of the Taleban regime, which was ousted from power in late 2001 by United States troops and their Afghan allies, these attacks are proof that their fighters have successfully regrouped and are now capable of launching attacks anywhere in the country.
The government of President Hamed Karzai and the US-led Coalition see the renewed violence as a desperate attempt by the insurgents to achieve a short-term objective - disrupting the parliamentary and provincial elections scheduled for September 18.
In a telephone interview with IWPR, Taleban spokesman Mufti Abdul Latif Hakimi described some of the insurgent attacks carried out during the past two months.
He reeled off a list of what he said the guerrillas had achieved, including "the seizure of Mian Nishin district in Kandahar province and the capture of more than 30 men at the district [police] headquarters; the Taleban's control of some areas in Helmand province; and the face-to-face fighting by Taleban fighters against government and US troops in Urozgan and Kunar provinces".
Both sides agree that in late June, the militants took control of part of Mian Nishin, sparking an offensive by US and Afghan troops. They differ, however, on the casualty count from the fighting. Interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said US and Afghan troops killed more than 100 Taleban fighters and arrested 16 in the clashes. News reports quoted the US military as saying five Americans were wounded.
Hakimi says the Islamist group lost just eight men in the fighting. He also claimed that they captured 31 policemen and put them on trial, adding that 23 of the officers were found not guilty and released but that eight others were convicted and “executed”.
Independent reports confirm that the bodies of eight police officers had been recovered. The men had been hanged. There has been no independent confirmation of casualty figures in the fighting.
On June 1, a bomb in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taleban, killed 20 people, including Kabul police chief Mohammad Akram, who were attending a memorial service for Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, a pro-government cleric who had been assassinated a week earlier. The Taleban have denied responsibility for the bombing but many still consider the group to be behind the attack.
Both sides also agree that in late June, the Taleban shot down an American Chinook helicopter carrying commandos sent to rescue a contingent of US troops battling the Islamist fighters in Kunar province. Everyone aboard was killed. The Taleban said 35 people died in the crash, while the US military put the death toll at 16.
The Taleban insist these attacks are part of their long-term strategy to overthrow the current government and drive US forces from the country.
“Whether the elections are held or not, we will continue our jihad [holy war] until we force the Americans to pull out of Afghanistan,” said Hakimi.
“We want a pure Islamic system in Afghanistan and we will realise our hopes."
Defence ministry official General Mohammad Azim Mujahid dismisses the Taleban as a long-term threat. He says they tried but failed to disrupt last year's presidential poll, and now they want to derail the parliamentary election.
“The government is now ready – our national army is being strengthened day by day, and the national police, ISAF and Coalition forces are cooperating with us,” said Mujahid, referring both to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force of 8,300 troops and the US-led forces, with a strength of some 18,000.
US and British military are training the new Afghan National Army, which is being created from former militia fighters who handed in their weapons under the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme. Around 21,000 men have been trained so far, with a target of a 70,000-strong army by the end of 2006.
“We are now able to neutralise enemy attacks in any part of the country,” said General Mujahed.
For Gul Khan, 35, sitting on bare earth in his new home, the claim rings hollow. He was forced by the violence to flee his home in the southern province of Zabul and now lives in a tumbledown hovel in the village of Sadeq Khil, in the safer environment of the central province of Wardak.
"I worked as a labourer for the Americans, but the Taleban was always warning my parents that if they didn't stop me working with them they would kill me," he said, explaining why he fled his Zabul home in May.
"The government was in charge only in the centre of Zabul province, in Qalat city, but outside the city the government was not in control."
Ahmad Jan, 60, who also relocated his family from Zabul to Wardak, said he fled after the Taleban threatened to kill his sons.
"I destroyed my house and left my farm because I was constantly being threatened by the Taleban through letters left at night telling me to prevent my sons from working for the government and to join them [the Taleban] in a jihad against the government and the Americans," said Ahmad Jan.
While both Taleban and government officials suggested that insurgent forces appear to be acquiring more modern military equipment, neither side provided details on how the guerrillas were being supplied.
Local reports said a rocket-propelled grenade rather than a more sophisticated missile may have brought the Chinook helicopter down, although the US military has not confirmed this.
Colonel James Younts, a US military spokesman in Kabul, acknowledged that Taleban attacks have increased, and told IWPR that "there are indications that some of these attacks could be funded by or supported by outside agencies or other movements outside of Afghanistan”.
He added, "As the parliamentary elections are important for both Afghanistan and the international community, the terrorists also know the importance of the elections and they want to prove their presence by doing these things.”
The interior ministry’s Mashal said the Taleban was unable to take on government troops directly and was instead hitting soft targets like schools, mosques and other public places to try to deter people from taking part in the elections.
As proof, Marshal noted that five girls' schools have been set ablaze recently in Wardak and Logar provinces; vehicles have been hit by rockets; five parliamentary candidates have been killed in various parts of the country and the homes of others set ablaze. And in the past month, at least four pro-government clerics have been shot dead.
Hakimi acknowledged the Taleban had set houses ablaze in Wardak and had rocketed trucks there, but said he had no information about the burning down of the girls' schools.
In the countdown to the elections, ISAF troop numbers are being boosted.
The chief of France’s defence staff, General Henri Bentegeat, who visited Kabul on June 27, said, “The French government will send some 1,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in order to secure the parliamentary elections and these troops will continue their operations until the end of the elections.”
Nearly 1,000 French troops are already serving with ISAF and Coalition forces.
Meanwhile, the US reported that it was sending an additional 700 soldiers to join in the hunt for Taleban forces in the southern part of the country. Australia will also send 150 elite troops to join the 1,500 it already has in Afghanistan.
Colonel Younts told IWPR that there could well be more terrorist attacks. But the Afghan and US governments, the Coalition and ISAF would fight those responsible, to ensure that "the Afghan people will vote in September".
Taleban spokesman Hakimi sounded unconcerned, saying, "Our mujahedin are well trained – they are successful in fighting the Americans. These wine-swigging Americans can’t resist us and will leave Afghanistan very soon."
Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul. Abdul Baseer Saeed, an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul, also contributed to this report.
Karzai Sets Goal to Control Afghanistan
Associated Press / Fri Jul 22, 1:36 PM ET
ROME - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday that his government was determined to gain control over the whole country but would still require years of international support as Afghanistan emerges from decades of civil war.
On the second day of Karzai's visit to Italy, where he met Premier Silvio Berlusconi and other officials, Karzai said heavy weapons in Afghanistan were "almost completely recovered," but added that "it will take a bit to complete the disarmament of the country."
Afghanistan, which has grappled with an unprecedented rise in violence in recent months, is expected to hold historic parliamentary elections in September.
"In September, (Afghanistan) will have completed the layers of foundations for the process of peace and stability and we hope that Italy will continue to look at Afghanistan beyond that period as well," Karzai said.
Karzai arrived in Rome on Thursday and met with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whom he thanked for Italy's support in Afghanistan, where Italy has 910 troops.
The two issued a joint statement condemning as "ferocious attacks" Thursday's explosions in the London transport system, which came two weeks after the deadly suicide bombings in the British capital that killed 56 people.
"The people that committed murders in London just a few days ago ... are the same people killing clergy in Afghanistan, killing children in Afghanistan, burning schools in Afghanistan." Karzai told a conference Friday.
"Those who commit murder in the name of religion don't belong to that religion, but to their own cult. They are merchants of death. It's a way of life that can be stopped only when the world gets united," he added.
Drug Smugglers Eye New Bridge
Traffickers see planned river crossing to Central Asia as gift that will smooth their path.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif (ARR No. 179, 22-Jul-05)
Smuggling drugs from northern Afghanistan to Tajikistan, the gateway to Central Asia and Russia, is cold, wet and dangerous work. As night falls, dark figures balanced on inflated truck-tyre inner tubes paddle across the river Amu Darya.
But now the traffickers are hoping their job will get easier. The two countries, with United States funding, have begun building a bridge connecting the town of Shir Khan in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province with Panj in Tajikistan, crossing the Amu Darya which serves as the border.
Afghan and Tajik leaders say the bridge will benefit the whole region in terms of trade and transport.
The traffickers of raw opium and processed heroin hope it will ease their trade too.
Explaining how it is done today, one smuggler told IWPR, “I put 10 to 15 kilos of opium in bags and tie them around my waist, cross the river by tube and get to Tajikistan in 20 minutes. I do this twice a month.”
The man, who declined to give his name, said he had been operating this way since the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.
To handle larger quantities and avoid the risk of sinking or losing his cargo, he sometimes conceals his contraband among legitimate goods being shipped out of the country.
“This is the best way of doing business because I buy a kilo of opium for 100 [US] dollars from local farmers or shopkeepers and sell it for 200 dollars in Tajikistan," he said, adding that this kind of profit "does not exist in any [other] part of the world”.
No one is looking forward to the scheduled 2007 completion of the 29 million dollar, 672-metre-long bridge more than this trafficker and his fellow drug smugglers.
Nor is he worried by officials’ promises that border security will be tightened when the bridge opens.
“We’re not concerned about security because the police are our friends,” he laughed.
"It’s impossible to smuggle opium without the cooperation of the police. Any time I smuggle opium to Tajikistan, I pay 300 to 400 dollars to the border guards."
Another smuggler, who also asked not to be named, told IWPR, “There are still a lot of police in the border areas, but we don’t have any problems with them because we pay them money. The establishment of the bridge will benefit the police too, because our relations with them will expand and they will get more money from us.”
Afghan police deny that they are involved in the drugs trade. Colonel Juma Gul Yardam, a border police commander in the region, said shipments being transported by boat across the river are routinely searched.
Yardam, however, acknowledged that the length of the border made it difficult to police. He said he believed the new bridge would make stopping smugglers easier.
Local farmers who grow poppies take the opposite view.
"If there is a permanent way of smuggling the opium to foreign countries, it will have a lot of advantages for our business,” said Ezatullah, a farmer in Balkh who has already sold his opium crop for this year.
“I have cultivated my three acres of land with opium and I earn my living off the land, but if the bridge is established and our opium is shipped to foreign countries, the price of opium will increase and then I can even save some of the money and my life will get better day by day.”
Ezatullah believe that the bridge will make the region so attractive for drug traffickers that they will relocate from other parts of the country and bid up the price of the local opium crop.
“I sold all of my opium for 50 dollars a kilogramme, but it has already gone up to 100 dollars a kilo,” he told IWPR.
Balkh district is already one of the country's major drug dealing markets and a magnet for drug smugglers who come to buy opium from other provinces in Afghanistan.
One Balkh shopkeeper, who deals in narcotics, told IWPR he agrees with Ezatullah’s logic, “If there are more ways for smugglers to get their opium to foreign countries, the price of the opium will increase much more.”
Qayoum Babak, a political analyst in Mazar-e-Sharif, had a similar view of the bridge. “The new bridge in Kunduz province… could become a very good route for smuggling opium to Central Asia.”
The only way to stop the drug trade in the country, he said, was to prohibit poppy cultivation, although he did not offer any opinion on how this could be achieved.
General Mohammad Daud, the deputy interior minister of Afghanistan, said the main drug smugglers had been identified by the government "but there are still some problems in bringing them to court".
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Where Streets Have No Name
Finding your way around Kabul can be tricky, but that may change soon.
Institute for War & Peace Repor By Abdul Baseer Saeed and Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul (ARR No. 179, 22-Jul-05)
There’s no poultry on Chicken Street, and Flower Street sells more pirate videos than blossoms. And the Flower Street Café is actually located on the other side of the city.
But even these confusing designations are an improvement on the great mass of Kabul roads, which have no names whatsoever.
“Sometimes when we get called out to a fire, we can’t find the address. We have to wait until we can see the smoke,” said Colonel Mohammad Kazem, who heads the disaster readiness office at Kabul’s fire department.
Fire trucks, mail carriers, taxi drivers and ordinary citizens are in the same boat when it comes to navigating the city’s chaotic streets. After two decades of conflict, parts of the capital are in ruins. And the most fundamental guides to location – street names – are conspicuously absent, often creating havoc in a city of well over three million people.
Although Mohammad Ayub, 45, a Kabul native, says that he still has a hard time finding his way around.
“One day a relative of mine in Kart-e-Now died and I was trying to go to his house. I left home at eight in the morning and looked for the house until noon, but I couldn’t find it,” said Ayoub.
Small wonder. Most streets are known only by their proximity to landmarks or major intersections, and giving an address requires a certain amount of hand waving and high-decibel instruction. This can be a challenge for businesses and other professional organisations, since lengthy directions do not fit comfortably in the corner of a business card.
But now the government is finally taking steps to remedy the situation.
Minister of Information and Culture Sayed Makhdum Raheen said he planned the street-names project himself.
“Afghanistan has 34 provinces, so each one will have a street named after it,” he said. “The names of poets from before 1919 will also be used.”
There will be exceptions, however.
According to Raheen, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who was king of Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973 and now has the title Father of the Nation, will have his own street. But so will his cousin Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan, who overthrew him and ruled until the communist takeover in 1978.
Politics intrudes on every aspect of life in Afghanistan, and street naming is rife with the potential for conflict. Raheen should expect that whatever names are assigned to the city’s thoroughfares will prove controversial.
Ahmad Shah Massoud, the mujahedin leader turned civil war commander, has his own street - Great Massoud Road - where the American embassy is located. Massoud’s assassination two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States earned him martyr status among part of Afghanistan’s population - but others revile him as a warlord who helped reduce Kabul to rubble. His ubiquitous photos are often defaced, and many city residents refuse to call the street by its given name.
Haji Qadir, a former vice-president and military commander, who was assassinated in 2002, has his own crossroads. Qadir’s legacy is also disputed. In his native Jalalabad, he is buried alongside of King Amanullah, who ruled in the Twenties but died in 1960. This has so offended some Afghans that they have repeatedly tried to blow up his tomb.
There has been talk in the presidential administration that a road is to be named in honour of Abdul Ali Mazari, a commander who led the main ethnic Hazara faction, Hezb-e-Wahdat, but the Kabul municipality insists no such plans are afoot.
Mohammad Ayub laughed when IWPR told him about the project. “If the streets are named after the murderers of the Afghan people, like some crossroads in Kabul have already been, it would be better if they remained nameless,” he said.
The street-naming project will cost money but no one is forthcoming about the details. “So far we have 172 signs ready to set up on the streets,” said Mohammad Zahir Rezayee, a senior official with Kabul municipality. “Each sign cost the municipality 18 [US] dollars, and the total comes to 3,096 dollars.”
He added that the International Security and Assistance Force, ISAF, has set up 500 signs at a cost of 10,000 dollars in Kabul’s 11th and 15th districts two months ago.
Rezayee declined to give the overall budget figure allocated for street naming.
Meanwhile, Kabul residents and visitors alike are struggling to find their way.
Gulab, 50, has come from his native Baghlan province to Kabul for medical treatment, and has had to stay in a hotel for a week because he was unable to find his nephew’s house in western Kabul.
”If the streets and crossroads were named, I wouldn’t have this problem,” he said. “I’ve spent all my money on this hotel.”
Taxi drivers also have a hard time coping. Mohammad Wali, a Kabul cabbie, says most of his passengers give him directions rather than addresses.
“Since the streets don’t have specific names, it is difficult to set the fare in advance,” he said.
Abdul Baseer Saeed and Amanullah Nasrat are IWPR staff reporters in Kabul.
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