International Affairs, Peace & Human Security


Among the earliest streams of the modern-day ecumenical movement were ones particularly concerned about international peace and resolution of conflicts. From the late 19th century efforts were made to resolve by peaceful means the tensions which led to the First World War. During the 1930s, efforts were made to address the growing tensions that were again leading to world war. Thus, it was to be expected that the founding Assembly of the WCC, postponed as a result of the Second World War, would address itself especially to the need to resolve conflicts short of war.

Over the years, both directly and through the United Nations, the Council has repeatedly addressed specific conflicts. The overwhelming one was that between East and West during the years of the Cold War. During this period, the WCC established and kept alive relationships between the churches of the two camps, sometimes providing the only caring, human link between the sides. Similarly, the WCC called early on for the admission of Communist China into the UN, seeking there, too, to shift from strict confrontation to dialogue in pursuit of at least a semblance of peace.

In more recent years, the WCC has played a significant role in promoting peace between nations in several situations of intransigent conflict. In the early 1970s it served a mediating role in the Sudan which led to the signing of the Addis Ababa Peace Accord in 1972. From 1984, it played a central role in opening up access to North Korea and in fostering progress towards Korean reunification. Here, it cooperated closely with member churches in the North East Asian region, in the USSR and in the USA in developing policy guidelines that ultimately have informed new policies of South Korea and the USA. In the early 1990’s an attempt was made to play a mediating role between Armenia and Azerbaidjan, bringing the Christian and Muslim leaders of the two countries together in an effort to stop the war going on then and to find a peaceful resolution.

These are but a few of the more dramatic examples of work that has been pursued over time. It was only with the proliferation of national and ethnic conflicts, many with a religious overtone, which appeared after 1991 that demands on the Council to play a more aggressive role in this field became especially pressing. In a statement adopted in 1996 by the Central Committee, the WCC addressed the churches with a series of questions seeking to clarify and improve the capacity of the ecumenical movement in this complex field.

Through the Programme to Overcome Violence, more specificity has been gained. Still, however, the capacity of the WCC remains limited, and priorities have to be set. Emphasis must be given on equipping churches directly involved in situations of conflict to become more effective actors in conflict transformation.

In order to give the Commission a fuller idea of the spectrum of current engagements, reports given to the most recent meeting of the Central Committee, and more recently still to the Officers of the Council are drawn together in the following pages. The work described here consumes easily more than half of the staff’s time and energies. The Commission is asked to give guidance on how best these and similar efforts can be pursued in the next period.

WCC Response to Major Developments in International Affairs During 1999

Regional developments

AFRICA. Staff has continued to follow closely developments in Angola, where conflict continues unabated. UNITA has refused to comply with the terms of the peace agreement, and fighting continues with extremely negative consequences for the civilian population. The Angolan Council of Churches adopted a strong appeal to all parties to resolve the internal conflict by peaceful means. Their representatives have recently visited Canada, the United States of America and Europe to promote support for their initiative. They have called on the international community to pay more serious attention to this civil war, to press harder on the parties to agree to implement terms of past peace agreements and to assist in the rehabilitation of their war-torn country. The CCIA/WCC UN Headquarters Liaison Office in New York facilitated encounters for the delegation with permanent missions of states members of the Security Council and key members of the UN secretariat. Plans are also being studied for an ecumenical team visit in early 2000.

Since the Harare Assembly, the situation in Central Africa and the Great Lakes Region has not substantially improved. Mediation efforts within the region have managed to cool down somewhat the fighting within the Democratic Republic of Congo. Though a peace accord was signed last September, a final settlement remains outstanding. The ecumenical movement has been substantially engaged in efforts to find a negotiated solution. The AACC, and especially the Fellowships of Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA), and in Southern Africa (FOCISA) have worked with African governments, and made special attempts to include the churches of the DRC in cooperative ecumenical efforts. The WCC General Secretary, paid an extensive ecumenical visit to the churches of the DRC and of Congo-Brazzaville, accompanied by the General Secretary and President of AACC and the Coordinator of FECCLAHA. Subsequently, a meeting of civil society actors was held in Kinshasha in preparation for the national debate, in which the churches, assisted by AACC, played a central role. The WCC has sent a proposal the churches in the DRC for follow-up actions which include: (1) a plan to strengthen the role of the churches in the present "national debate" by bringing church leaders from the DRC into contact with those from Kenya, Ghana and South Africa who have experience in this field; (2) to bring all leaders of churches in the DRC together, including those under rebel control, to consider jointly national ecumenical priorities; and (3) to convene a meeting of all the church leaders of the Great Lakes region for more intentional cross-national planning.

Visits were paid early in 1999 to both Ethiopia and Eritrea in cooperation with FECCLAHA and the AACC. The purpose was to stimulate and accelerate the efforts of inter-religious committees formed on both sides to promote a negotiated solution to this conflict. Intensive efforts were made by the WCC to restart dialogue between religious leaders on the two sides. A third dialogue meeting was held after the Central Committee meeting in Oslo under the auspices of Norwegian Church Aid. To this meeting the Central Committee sent a letter to the religious leaders from Ethiopia and Eritrea, conveying the WCC’s encouragement for their efforts to promote peace between their countries. This meeting achieved the positive result of an agreement between the two interfaith committees to seek joint meetings with the respective leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both immediately proposed this to their leaders. These visits have not yet taken place, though news received in recent days indicates that they may soon be able to go forward with the agreement of the two heads of state. International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff remains in close contact with the situation, and with NCA as it seeks to help the two sides to realize their common aim.

There are new concerns about the situation in Liberia, where there was a new outbreak of violence in late summer. Efforts are now being made to determine what role the wider ecumenical movement might play in ensuring that the delicate peace established there not collapse, yet again, into a conflagration.

The Officers of the Central Committee sent a letter in September 1999 supporting the Christian Association of Nigeria. The situation in the Delta region has again deteriorated in recent weeks, and the government has initiated military action in the area on the pretext of clamping down on lawlessness. In fact it apparently intends to stifle protest of the people for greater share in the oil revenues. The Council has been in communication the Central Committee member from Nigeria, inviting him to come to soon for briefings on the developments in the Niger-Delta. International Affairs, Peace & Human Security proposes to organise a human rights consultation that will bring together leaders from the churches, NGOs & MOSOP.

The Inter-religious Council in Sierra Leone has acted courageously and effectively to help mediate the long-standing, brutal civil war in that country. An agreement between the parties has recently been signed. The WCC remained in close contact with church leaders there and with the leadership of the Fellowship of Churches in West Africa (FECIWA) with respect to supportive follow-up actions to promote the effective implementation of the accord and begin efforts of post-conflict healing and reconstruction. In November 1999, the WCC sent a sizable delegation to that country at the invitation of the churches there, and was well received and deeply appreciated. The delegation was deeply moved by the terrible suffering of the population as a result of the civil war which has raged in Sierra Leone for nearly a decade. They were moved and impressed by the spiritual quality of the people and especially of the religious leadership, both Christian and Muslim, as well as by the remarkable capacity shown by religious leaders to manage affairs in the most extreme circumstances, and to continue to provide a powerful witness for peace. Plans for follow-up are being worked out now, aided by the terms of reference prepared in advance which called for the identification of needs and the intention to use the visit as a platform for global ecumenical response.

Two meetings of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum have been held to intensify ecumenical advocacy for peace in that country. The New Sudan Council of Churches and the Sudan Council of Churches have issued a new common position paper. The Forum has issued a statement which was sent to IGAD member states and the IGAD Partners Forum, supporting the churches’ call for a cease-fire and an intensification of efforts through IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) to achieve a negotiated settlement.

ASIA. The situations in and the conflict between India and Pakistan have significantly worsened in the past year. Staff visited Pakistan immediately following the recent military coup d’état. Of particular concern to the WCC have been the implications for religious liberty resulting from increased internal tensions in both countries.

International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff paid assessment visits to East Timor, Irian Jaya and Indonesia before and after the meeting of the Central Committee. The WCC decided, for security reasons, not to sponsor a specific ecumenical election monitoring team for the referendum in East Timor. Nevertheless, staff kept in close contact before, during and after elections with the Timorese churches and staff sent by the PGI to accompany and assist monitors. A series of advocacy updates were provided to church and agency partners, gathering information received from various directly informed sources. As a result, the international press turned often to the WCC for interpretation of the violence that followed. A joint WCC-CCA meeting in Sri Lanka immediately after the elections provided a new opportunity to meet with Indonesian and other Asian church leaders were present, and to keep Geneva staff informed on a timely basis of developments.

The post referendum violence left East Timor destroyed and in disarray. Nearly half the population fled to the hills and to West Timor. Since the arrival of the Australian-led UN Peacekeeping Force, East Timor is gradually returning to normal. Some of those who fled have returned, but a large number remain in the hills. Over two hundred and fifty thousand are being prevented by the militias in camps in West Timor from returning to their homes. Conditions in the camps are poor. Access to the camps is still restricted by the Indonesian military and militia, despite the Indonesian government’s agreement with UNHCR on 15 October to allow humanitarian work there. In spite of this, some relief work is being carried on by international humanitarian agencies and NGOs, including ACT, whose humanitarian assistance program is being coordinated by Church World Service in cooperation with the Church in West Timor, GMIT. The WCC member church in East Timor, the GKTT, has suffered heavy losses. The Hosanna Church and the Synod office in Dili have been burnt, other church property destroyed and vehicles stolen. General Secretary Rev. Francisco de Vasconcelos fled to the hills and was reported to have been killed. He has however survived, and returned to Dili for a brief period before proceeding to Darwin. Of GKTT’s 28 pastors only four have returned. The whereabouts of many of the rest are unknown. It is presumed that some are being held in the camps in West Timor. Very few congregation members have returned. The GKTT membership is comprised of both native East Timorese and Indonesian settlers, the majority of whom have now moved to Java and other parts of Indonesia for security reasons and are unlikely to return. The GKTT still maintains contacts with the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), but its church leaders intend to re-establish the East Timor church as a separate administrative entity and rebuild its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in the territory. The WCC has been asked to convene a meeting with donor partners to assist the GKTT in its efforts of reconstruction and to promote reconciliation and peace in East Timor.

In order to facilitate dialogue between GKTT, PGI and other churches in the region, WCC and CCA jointly convened an important meeting in Hong Kong ten days ago to consider the impact of the crises in East Timor and Indonesia on ecumenical relationships in the region. Participants the continuing crisis in Indonesia, paying particular attention to issues raised by Indonesian church representatives at the last meeting of Central Committee.

The WCC continues to work closely with different UN bodies operating in East Timor. Staff has met with UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights who recently visited East Timor and the Chairperson of the UN Special Commission of Enquiry that is due to visit East Timor from 25th November to 5th December. WCC will continue to monitor closely the developments in the territory in the days ahead.

Tensions are also increasing in NorthEast Asia. Both directly, and through the efforts of ACT (Action By Churches Together), the WCC helped mobilize massive amounts of ecumenical assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to help it meet the enormous human need caused by successive seasons of flooding and crop failure. Much of this has been channeled through the Korean Christians Federation. While major policy changes have occurred in the Republic of Korea, in the South, with respect to cooperation with North Korea in the hope for reunification, official dialogue is again at a standstill. The security situation in the region is again tense as a result of a new military forces agreement between the USA and Japan, alleged new military developments in North Korea, and continuing tensions between China and Taiwan. The General Secretary paid a visit recently to Japan and North and South Korea where he reassured the churches of the continuing concern of the WCC for the future of peace and security in the region.

Ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka continue, with little hope at present for conditions to be created for effective mediation of this dispute by either internal groups or external powers. The WCC maintains close relations with the churches there, and is in regular contact with Western governments who have signaled their continuing readiness to assist in mediation when conditions allow.

EUROPE. The most dramatic development of this period, especially in terms of international media attention, has been the situation of Kosovo. NATO forces engaged in an extended campaign of bombing both in Kosovo and in Yugoslavia, justifying their intervention as an unavoidable humanitarian action to protect the ethnic Albanian population from further acts of ethnic cleansing. Detailed background information on the WCC’s response, often in collaboration with the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and World Christian Communions, and a selection of member church positions was prepared for the Central Committee by Communications staff (The Churches and the Kosovo Crisis). The Central Committee then issued an extensive position paper pointing to critical issues raised by this intervention.

A staff task force on South-East Europe, which includes representatives of WARC, LWF, CEC and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has kept the evolving situation of Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans under close review. International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff has visited refugees in the region and stayed in close contact with UNHCR, where it has addressed governments on issues related to refugees from the area at a recent meeting of its Executive Committee. Contacts have been kept throughout the region since the end of the bombing, and a meeting in the Ecumenical Center in November 1999 brought some of those churches’ representatives together with donor church and agency staff to consider next steps in reconstruction and peacebuilding.

Of particular importance was a meeting held in mid-November in Oslo under the joint auspices of CEC in cooperation with WCC, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the "Vienna Group" that brought together church leaders and representatives from the Balkan region and other parts of Europe to assess the Kosovo crisis and its impact on the region and the rest of Europe. Held on the eve of the OSCE Summit, it made particular recommendations to government leaders arising from the Kosovo experience. It also called upon the UN Security Council to review the effects of the present sanctions against Yugoslavia. It provided yet another opportunity for dialogue among churches with respect to their response to the crisis, reaffirming the need for churches to remain together and to support one another as essential to their credibility in addressing political decision-makers.

In late November, a meeting was convened in Geneva with church representatives from the Balkans and other church partners to consider issues related to peace, reconciliation and development in the area once Kosovo ceases to be considered an "emergency". In these ways, the WCC, in cooperation with CEC, continues to provide an advocacy and action platform for the wider ecumenical movement.

Of particular concern to the ecumenical movement has been the reactive violence against the Serbian population remaining in Kosovo and the destruction of Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries. A letter of solidarity in this regard was recently sent to the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch.

More recently, the Russian intervention in Chechenya has raised international concern. A joint letter was sent by the General Secretaries of the WCC and CEC to Patriarch Alexei of the Russian Orthodox Church, raising serious questions about the actions of the Russian Army in Chechenya, expressing deep concern about its effects on the civilian population and on those seeking to flee the zone of combat, and encouraging His Holiness in his efforts to maintain tolerance and interreligious harmony in the Russian Federation.

LATIN AMERICA. Of particular concern during this period has been the continuing internal conflict in Colombia. There the WCC has coordinated a broad ecumenical approach to peace, in which the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), and the NCCCUSA are directly involved in meetings with the churches, civil society organizations, government and the armed opposition in efforts to mediate a negotiated end to the violence.

The implementation of the peace agreement in Guatemala has also been supported, in close collaboration with the churches and parties to the accord.

Attention has also been paid to Puerto Rico on the centenary of its association with the USA. Two statements have been made to the UN Decolonization Committee, urging that the case of this non-self-governing territory be put back on the list for formal consideration by that body. The situation of the island of Vieques, used by US armed forces as a target area for bombing and naval artillery, was again highlighted by the death of a civilian in recent months, which intensified calls for a cessation of military activity there.

An ecumenical visit was also paid to Haiti, in preparation for the forthcoming visit of the WCC General Secretary, seeking to strengthen ties with the churches there struggling to overcome poverty and the endemic political instability which has so long burdened that country.

Issues related to human rights and impunity were highlighted in Chile, and other countries of the region, with the detention of former military dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, by authorities of the United Kingdom, and court decisions finding him extraditable to Spain on charges of responsibility for acts of torture. Again here, the WCC has worked closely with churches and church-based human rights organizations that were again targeted by national authorities as a consequence of the tensions created by this case.

MIDDLE EAST. Recent developments have given rise to new expectations for the stalled negotiations on the Cyprus Question. To pursue the opportunities which have arisen, and as a follow-up to the earlier resolution on Cyprus adopted by the Executive Committee, an ecumenical delegation including an Internationa Relations staff member, an Orthodox member of the WCC Executive Committee, and CCIA Commissioner, Ernie Regehr, a Canadian peace and conflict resolution expert, visited Cyprus in late October. They held extensive consultations with Church, civil society, government, UN representatives, and foreign diplomatic missions. With the blessing of Archbishop Chrysostomos and the encouragement of President Clerides, the delegation paid the first official WCC visit to the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus. There again they met with Muslim figures, civil society representatives and government leaders of the self-declared «Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus». The delegation was encouraged by the commitment of Cypriots to restore harmonious relationships and by the vision for a united Cyprus. Intensive follow-up is planned to pursue the new openings achieved by the delegation.

Within a few days of the conclusion of the Assembly, the USA once again engaged in massive aerial bombing of Iraq. In succeeding months, punitive or retaliatory bombings have continued, though virtually no note has been taken of them in the international media until the killing by bombing of twelve civilians in the vicinity of Mosul. While there has been some relaxation of punitive economic sanctions against Iraq under the "Oil for Food" resolutions, sanctions continue to have disastrous effects on the civilian population. International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff maintains close contact on these questions with the UN Office of the Iraq Program, with the MECC field coordinator in Iraq, and interested church and NGO bodies.

The WCC, in cooperation with the MECC, sent an ecumenical delegation to Iraq in January 1998. In response to its findings, the Executive Committee in February 1998 adopted a statement that expressed "grave concern at the present massive military build-up in the Gulf region by the armed forces of the United States of America, supported by the UK and some other nations". It warned against further military action, urging "that this matter be brought again to the Security Council, and that no further military steps be taken without its concurrence". It also found that the application of sanctions against Iraq failed to meet the criteria adopted by the Central Committee in 1995, and appealed "to the UN Security Council to undertake a thorough review of the sanctions regime on Iraq".

Iran has undergone substantial change in recent years, which has resulted in improved international relations with Western States. During that period, the WCC, again in cooperation with MECC, engaged in significant dialogue with Islamic spiritual leaders which, according to reports since have contributed to an improvement of the situation of Christian churches in that country. WCC staff continue to visit the country in an effort to keep open lines of communication and dialogue.

The WCC Harare Assembly statement on Jerusalem has been well received by the churches and others in Jerusalem and in the wider region, by several foreign ministries of Western governments has expressed appreciation for the guidelines it provided. International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff has twice visited the city, continuing dialogue with the churches, the Palestinian political leadership and leading religious figures and others in Israel with respect to the process to be followed towards negotiations of the Status of Jerusalem. The change of government in Israel has given rise to hopes that the stagnated Middle East peace process can be undertaken in a constructive way.

Since the September meeting of the Central Committee, staff responded to an invitation of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches and Christian communities to participate with them in Jerusalem for a day of reflection on the status of Jerusalem within the present negotiations. The WCC team also included an international legal expert from the Netherlands Prof. Paul de Waart. At the team’s suggestion, the church leaders decided to set up a committee of lay experts on legal questions related to the final status negotiations. Prof. de Waart has agreed to work with them on behalf of WCC, and the WCC has promised to accompany the process wherever possible and necessary.

Individual meetings were held with Patriarchs and Bishops, the Vatican Apostolic delegate to Israel and the Holy Land, a Moslem cleric, high level Israeli and Palestinian political and civil society leadership, including academics, members of Knesset and PLO officials leading the specific negotiating committees of the final status negotiations.

Around this time, tension rose again in Nazareth. A serious conflict had developed there as a result of the intention of a group of Muslims to construct a mosque in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation. An Israeli Ministerial decision to give the go-ahead for the construction gave rise to further serious concerns by the Christian Communities. At the invitation of the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, staff paid a two-day visit to the "City of Annunciation", visiting the site and meeting with the Mayor of Nazareth and a leading Arab Christian member of the Israeli Knesset. In a communiqué released on November 4th, the Greek Orthodox, Latin and Armenian Patriarchs and the Custos of the Holy Land expressed their view that this decision summarily violated the rights of the Churches. In protest, they took the decision to close down all Sanctuaries of the Holy Land on November 22-23, 1999, calling upon their "Muslim brothers to support us in this action so that what befalls us today will not befall them tomorrow."

In November International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff, along with representatives of ICCO and EZE, participated in the first meeting of the European NGO's Inter-network for Palestine with Palestinian NGO's, as part of an APRODEV delegation to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The Inter-Network organised a briefing session with European Parliamentarians urging them to take the necessary steps to ensure a constructive role for the EU in the Middle East for the establishment of an independent, sovereign, democratic, viable and peaceful Palestinian State.

With respect to the situation of the Kurds, especially in Turkey, the WCC appealed for a fair and open trial for PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan after his abduction and return to Turkey. It subsequently appealed for the death penalty issued against him by the court to be commuted to an appropriate term of imprisonment. Recent statements by PKK leadership, responding to Ocalan’s appeal during his trial suggest the possibility that they will make recourse in the future to political more than military action to achieve their goals.

THE PACIFIC. At the request of the HarareAssembly, the WCC officers addressed a letter to the French Prime Minister, supporting the request of the Eglise Evangélique de la Polynésie Francaise that records related to the health and environmental consequences of nuclear testing in the Territory be released by the French Government. Following up this action the WCC Pacific Desk was instrumental in the organization of a special hearing in the French Parliament on this matter. The meeting was addressed by specialists in the field, representatives of the Tahitian church, and Bishop Bryce, President of the WCC, and was widely attended by European Pacific solidarity groups and French citizens who gave witness to the effects of French nuclear research and testing on their own family members.

The internal situations in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville have been closely monitored following the peace accord reached between the parties.

Issue areas

Small Arms and Light Weapons. International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff, drawing on the expertise of ecumenical specialists from the regions, has been instrumental in the shaping of the new International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). In several international forums, such as the Hague Peace Conference, the WCC has played a key role in a series of international and regional initiatives to establish effective controls over the production, transfer and trade, and use of small arms. An early meeting of the IANSA organizing committee was held in the Ecumenical Center and was addressed by the General Secretary.

Child Soldiers. Following up on the Assembly statement, staff established relations and is developing widening areas of collaboration with UN Under-Secretary-General Olara Otunnu, Special Representative the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

International Criminal Court. Follow-up actions with churches, and in conjunction with other non-governmental partners, have also been taken with regard to the need for countries to sign and ratify the Rome Agreement.

United Nations Relations. In collaboration with the WCC team on Justice, Peace and Creation, the UN Headquarters Liaison Office organized Ecumenical delegations to meetings of the UN in New York on Sustainable Development, Social Development and the Status of Women. In each instance statements were made, and parallel events organized which highlighted ecumenical positions on the issues. Continuity in the membership of these specialist teams contributed to their making a substantial impact on the work of these key preparatory committees. Preparations have also begun in both New York and Geneva, in collaboration especially with the LWF, for the follow-up meeting in Geneva ("Geneva 2000") of the Copenhagen Social Summit held five-years ago. In collaboration with other international NGOs, the UN Headquarters Liaison Office staff played a significant role in discussions with the UN Secretariat and member state delegations to improve conditions of access by NGOs to UN premises, meetings and conferences.

In Geneva, major attention has again been paid to meetings of the UN Commission on Human Rights and its Subcommission. Major ecumenical delegations followed these debates and made substantive statements on areas of special concern to the WCC. Once again, the JPC team organized and hosted a large delegation of representatives of indigenous peoples from different parts of the world during sessions of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples.

Sanctions. WCC press alerts prior to the General Secretary’s visit to Cuba mentioned that among the items to be discussed would be concern about the continuation of unilateral US sanctions against that country. This stimulated a great deal of media interest, and provided staff with opportunities to restate the WCC’s and the wider ecumenical movement’s position on sanctions. On this, and on the nearly decade-long UN sanctions against Iraq, there has been considerable church and diplomatic movement in the recent period, including in debates in the current session of the UN General Assembly. Strong positions have been reiterated of late by churches in the US, including an especially strong position of the US Catholic Bishops Conference denouncing US policy which blocks lifting of sanctions against Iraq which are having disastrous effects on the civilian population.

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