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Below are the full exchanges between George Robertson and MPs yesterday. I note two things. Firstly, that only two government MPs supported government policy, while five objected. No Opposition MP, except the official spokesman supported the government either. Secondly George Robertson said "It is not part of our policy to remove Saddam Hussein from office. That will be done by the Iraqi people in their good time." -a quote which may be useful to note. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on changes to the rules of engagement in relation to military action over Iraq. The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): Madam Speaker, our aircrew, carrying out the vital humanitarian task of enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, face almost daily attempts by Saddam Hussein to kill them. He is making every effort to shoot down UK and US aircraft--even offering bounties to air defence units. Since the end of Operation Desert Fox, there have been more than 100 violations of the no-fly zones. Coalition aircraft have been fired on by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery, and have been otherwise threatened more than 50 times. Typically endangering the safety of his own people, Saddam is even using heavy surface-to-surface rockets as improvised anti-aircraft weapons. Let us be clear that there is still a pressing need to maintain these patrols and the no-fly zones. Saddam's brutal repression of his people is well documented--including by the UN. That is, of course, why the no-fly zones were established in the north in April 1991 and in the south in August 1992. His internal security organisations continue to persecute all opponents of the regime on the ground. Without our continued presence, he would be free to do so in the air as well. We are not prepared to countenance that. Saddam's latest campaign against coalition aircrew is sustained and direct, and leaves us with a stark choice: to give up, and let him do his worst to the Iraqi Kurds in the north and the Shias in the south, or to act to protect those flying these legitimate humanitarian patrols. We cannot simply ignore these attacks. We have, therefore, tailored the rules of engagement to reflect the escalation by the Iraqis of their systematic attacks and threats to our aircraft. I hope that the House will understand that I am not prepared to go into detail, as neither we nor the US would wish to provide Iraq with information that could be used to increase the threat to our people. I can assure the House that this adaptation of the rules of engagement in no way represents a change to either our policy towards maintaining the no-fly zones or the purpose of our long-standing patrols. The tailoring of the rules of engagement merely reinforces our position, which we have made clear all along--that we will take robust and appropriate defensive measures to prevent Saddam from endangering the lives of our brave aircrew. Of course Saddam's propaganda machine is quick to exaggerate the effects of coalition action on the Iraqi people. I can assure the House that the only targets attacked are legitimate military ones. They include the communications facilities targeted by the United States over the weekend, which now appear also to have carried part of the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline control network. Damage to the oil pipeline control system is regrettable, but the pipeline itself was not damaged and we understand that the oil flow resumed in less than three days. 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1214 Furthermore, there was no interruption to the export of oil because significant stocks are held at the Turkish end of the pipeline. We have limited ourselves strictly to proportionate responses to threats against coalition aircraft, using precision-guided weapons to minimise casualties. Of course such action is regrettable, but Saddam's attacks leave no alternative, other than to abandon our patrols, with all that that would mean for the Iraqi Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. If he stops attacking our aircraft, we will stop acting against him in response. Just as in Operation Desert Fox, the responsibility for the military action lies firmly at Saddam Hussein's door. Mr. Dalyell: Where is all this to end? Is it not a fact that more ordnance has rained down on Iraq since Desert Fox than during it, and that more bombs and missiles were used during Desert Fox than in the whole of the Gulf war? How can the rules of engagement be changed to that extent without a declaration of war? In the absence of such a declaration, what would be the position of a pilot, British or American, who had to bale out of an aircraft that was hit or had malfunctioned? How does my right hon. Friend respond to President Demirel of Turkey, whose statement was that the strikes against the pipeline were "unacceptable"? My right hon. Friend refers to the Shia. Those of us who visited Basra and the marshes in 1994 cannot conceive that bombs will do anything but strengthen the position of the regime, rather than weakening it. The Foreign Minister of Iraq is himself a Shia. Reference may be made to the brutal murder in Najaf of Ayatollah Muhammad al-Sadr, but there are grave doubts about whether the regime was in any way responsible for something that would have been against its own interests. Is the so-called threat against the Shia, the Marsh Arabs and indeed the Iraqi Kurds--the Health Minister, Dr. Mubarak, is a Kurd--such as to justify the traumatisation of children, old people and a whole society? Where is all this to end? Can we have a precise statement of the objective of bombing following the change in the rules of engagement? Mr. Robertson: To answer my hon. Friend's clear question about where this will end: it will end when Saddam Hussein complies with the resolutions to which he signed up at the end of the Gulf war and stops being a threat to his neighbours and to the region. That is the simple answer. I understand my hon. Friend's attention to this subject, and I do not for a moment question his sincerity, but I find it extraordinary that he could make so lengthy a contribution without once mentioning the threat to our aircrew, who are patrolling the no-fly zones for purely humanitarian reasons and put their lives in danger every day they carry out the duty that we have placed on them. I do not think that my hon. Friend is right to draw a comparison between Operation Desert Fox, which was a 72-hour campaign designed to diminish and degrade Saddam Hussein's military capability and his ability to threaten his neighbours, and the purely defensive operation which is involved in the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq today. We are engaged in defensive operations to ensure that Saddam Hussein's objective and ambition, which is to kill our pilots, 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1215 is frustrated. I made that clear in what I said. We have only one option, which is to stay and protect the people whom the no-fly zones were put in place to protect. My hon. Friend asked how we could make alterations to the rules of engagement without a declaration of war. We are not at war with Saddam Hussein or with the Iraqi regime. Our planes are acting strictly in accordance with international law and they are taking defensive steps to prevent them from being attacked by the Iraqis. My hon. Friend asked about the position of a pilot who might be downed over Iraq, and, indeed, bounties are being offered to anti-aircraft crew by Saddam Hussein to achieve that. The lack of a declaration of war in no way relieves the Iraqi regime of its obligations under the Geneva conventions to anybody who may be involved in a situation such as that which my hon. Friend describes. My hon. Friend mentioned the comments yesterday by President Demirel about the attack on the communications centre beside the oil pipeline. I understand that President Demirel has now been briefed on the fact that that was in response to a precise attack on coalition aircraft and that the Turkish Government fully understand that the action was taken not against the pipeline, but against the control and communications centre, which appeared to have a dual-use function. My hon. Friend seems to imply that the Arabs in the south of Iraq are safe and, without the coalition aircraft, they would come to no harm. He suggests that, because there is a Shia Muslim and a Kurdish Minister in the Government of Iraq--which is almost a contradiction in terms--that in some way protects the people of the south and north. It does not. The systematic, brutal attacks that took place in 1991 and 1992 have not left my memory, even if they have left my hon. Friend's. Those attacks would return if we were to cease maintaining the no-fly zones. I say to my hon. Friend that we will stop our responses if the Iraqis stop attacking our planes. Saddam Hussein is trying to kill our pilots, and we are acting in self-defence. At some point, he will have to wake up to the fact that he will have to comply with the will of the international community and the resolutions to which he has signed up. At that point, the violence can end. Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I thank the Secretary of State for his full answer. Nothing that the Government or the Opposition say or do should hinder the operational effectiveness of our forces or the forces of our allies. That is why we understand the need for caution in pressing Defence Ministers to reveal the rules of engagement and to tell the House whether they have been varied. Parliament has learned in recent years that in military conflicts it is crucial that all allied forces operate with the same rules of engagement. We have heard and seen much of the Secretary of State on radio and television in the past 24 hours, but he should not be dragged to Parliament to account for his actions by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). We would like to hear more of him on the issue and have the opportunity to question him on it. We agree that it is necessary to police the no-fly zones to help to protect the Shia Muslims and the Kurds from the excesses of Saddam Hussein. Will the Secretary of State tell us why there appears to be a divergence between United States objectives and those of the United 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1216 Kingdom? The United States has made it clear that its policy objective is the removal of Saddam Hussein from office; that is also the Conservative position. Today, we have heard nothing about the long-term objectives of UK Government. The Prime Minister has spoken of putting Saddam Hussein back in his cage. Does the Secretary of State understand that, if he is to retain public support, as well as the support of the whole House, he must develop, and share with us, a long-term strategy on Iraq? The Opposition agree with the United States Government position, reported yesterday to the US Congress, that the objective should be to help Iraq resume its rightful place in the region, which can be achieved only under new Iraqi leadership. We know that Saddam Hussein is able to sell as much oil as he wants for food and medicine for his people, but that he will not do so. Yesterday, the Prime Minister told the House that the Government "will not allow him to get round the sanctions and use that oil money to build up a weapons arsenal."--[Official Report, 3 March 1999; Vol. 326, c. 1074.] Therefore, why does it appear that we are allowing the illicit export of oil from Iraq to Turkey through Kurdish areas, by road, with thousands of tankers trading in cash which appears to be helping to keep the Saddam regime afloat? Today, the Secretary of State tells us that our aircrew are under renewed threat and are acting in self-defence. Will he assure the House that the forces that we are deploying over Iraq have enough equipment, ground support and medical services to sustain those brave men? I have explained why we are cautious in pressing Ministers to share rules of military engagement with the House; that was the subject of the private notice question tabled by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. However, the House should be aware that, this morning, US sources have told me that the US rules of engagement are a matter of public record, and that, in the United States on 1 March, Defence Secretary Cohen announced a variation to those rules. If that is true, will the Secretary of State also publish the rules of engagement that our forces are following, which presumably are identical to those followed by America? If the rules of engagement for the United States and UK forces are the same at the tactical level, surely the time has come for our strategic objectives to be the same. Mr. Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for what I thought, at the beginning, was a supportive statement. I appreciate that the Government have received support from the Opposition on both the purpose and the method of operating the no-fly zones. The hon. Gentleman contends that I have been dragged before Parliament and presses me to announce our rules of engagement, but I remind him that our rules of engagement abide strictly by international law. Rules of engagement are a routine and detailed operational matter; they are not normally discussed or published, so as to ensure the safety of our personnel. It has, therefore, been the practice of successive Governments never to notify Parliament of changes in the rules of engagement; nor is there a requirement to do so. I do not stand at the Dispatch Box to explain a different situation. There has been a sustained and increased level of attacks on coalition aircraft. The attempts by Saddam 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1217 Hussein to kill our aircrew continue and increase all the time; indeed, this morning, there were incursions into the southern no-fly zone and attacks on coalition aircraft. That situation continues. However, I refuse to give information of an operational nature that will allow the Iraqis better to target the aeroplanes of the Royal Air Force that are flying at the moment. The hon. Gentleman asks whether there is a divergence on policy between the United States and Britain. There is not. I have regular communications with my opposite number, Defence Secretary Cohen, and we are absolutely together in our views on this mission, and on the rules of engagement that apply to both countries. The hon. Gentleman asks why the Government do not state our long-term strategy for Iraq. The House has been informed as to that matter on many occasions. Although the private notice question is on the rules of engagement in the no-fly zones, let me point out that, ultimately, our objective is to ensure that Saddam is not a threat to his neighbours. Since the end of Desert Fox, he has threatened Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; and, only a few weeks ago, he went to Tariq Aziz to threaten the Turkish Government. We intend to ensure that he is not a danger to his own people as well. As for illicit sanctions breaking, ships of the Royal Navy and the Armilla patrol are engaged in that operation. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we will, whenever we can, tighten the screws of the sanctions on that country. I will agree with the hon. Gentleman on one point: Saddam is responsible for the miseries of the Iraqi people. He has in warehouses $275 million-worth of medicines and medical supplies which he refuses to distribute. Only 15 per cent. of the medical equipment purchased by the Iraqi Government has been distributed and only 2 to 3 per cent. has been installed. Although wheat and barley production has increased by 15 per cent. this year, Saddam Hussein has not given those crops to his people, but is selling them at cut-rate prices to Syria. Saddam has an obligation to comply with the United Nations Security Council resolutions and he is also responsible for the misery of the Iraqi people. Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Is the Secretary of State aware that--whatever words he may have used--he has, in effect, announced today a state of war against Iraq with the Americans to remove Saddam when there is absolutely no United Nations authority for that action? Is he aware also that we now know that the United States used the United Nations Special Commission to spy in order to identify current targets? Government policy towards Iraq over the years has failed absolutely, but, although the Government have announced a very important change today, Ministers have been reluctant to come to the House and allow us to debate the matter. This is a state of war, and British pilots are at risk because of the decisions taken by the American and British Governments, which, as I have said, have no legal authority. Is the Secretary of State aware that, regardless of the statements that he makes in the House, the use of depleted-uranium bullets during the war with Iraq and the suffering in that country have engendered a legacy of hatred which will probably last for generations? We need a middle east peace conference that will address a clutch 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1218 of issues, including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Turkey's invasion of northern Iraq and Cyprus, the Palestinian question and the position of the Kurds. That is the way forward. The Government demand ceasefires whenever wars break out elsewhere in the world, but they have renewed their attacks on Iraq when we should be looking at all the problems of the middle east--including the need to lift sanctions for humanitarian reasons. I beg the Secretary of State to ask his colleagues to allow the House to debate those issues in a manner that will allow more exchanges than are possible in the context of a private notice question. Mr. Robertson: I refute absolutely my right hon. Friend's allegation that this amounts to a declaration of war. If Saddam Hussein stops threatening the lives of our aircrew, we will not need to respond--it is as simple as that. Saddam Hussein's forces are attacking our aircrew and our planes. They are seeking to kill pilots of the Royal Air Force and we are taking defensive action. It is absurd for my right hon. Friend to suggest that this is in some way a declaration of war or that we are acting without United Nations authority. He will remember the attacks on the Kurds in the north--I saw him on the television standing in solidarity with some of those Kurds a few weeks ago--and what happened to the Marsh Arabs in the south of Iraq. The no-fly zones were put in place in response to those attacks, and they rightly remain today because the threat has not gone away. Our pilots are at risk. They have a humanitarian mission: they willingly fly every day because they believe in international law and order. They should be applauded and congratulated on their efforts. When I visited them last month, I recognised their bravery and the risks that they are taking. I must remind my right hon. Friend--in all comradeliness--that, if we had listened to his advice in 1990, Kuwait would still be occupied by Saddam Hussein and the gross violations of human rights that we witnessed then would be continuing. Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): I do not doubt the need to maintain the no-fly zones or the bravery of Royal Air Force aircrew and the risks that they run. However, does the Secretary of State understand that those of us who supported the use of force as a last resort to compel Saddam Hussein to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions none the less feel unable to give the Secretary of State the blank cheque to which he alluded today? Is there not a substantial distinction to be drawn between a defensive response to the threat of attack and, as is now apparently taking place, the systematic destruction of Iraq's air defence system? Is that not an escalation that goes far beyond the mere tailoring of the rules of engagement, as the Secretary of State has suggested? Mr. Robertson: No, it does not. I say bluntly to the right hon. Gentleman that what we are doing is proportionate. It uses precision-guided weapons; it is directed only at military targets. There is no escalation that is not mirrored by the increased threat to coalition aircrew. The decision is taken with a heavy heart, and with regret. I take no pleasure in ordering young men--those on the ground who support them suffer the deprivation of being away from home, too--into battle in these circumstances, but we do it because the threat 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1219 is increasing. Daily incursions have increased dramatically since the end of Operation Desert Fox. What we do is robust, but we are conscious at every stage of the fact that, under international law, it must be proportionate. There is no blank cheque. If attacks stop on planes that are policing the no-fly zones and protecting helpless people who have already been attacked, the responses will stop exactly at that point. Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that his comments today have the overwhelming support not only of the parliamentary Labour party but of the British people? Is he further aware that some of us greet with nausea the comments of apologists for Saddam Hussein, who seem to take no account whatever of the fact that all these actions derive from the annexation of Kuwait and the looting and murder of Kuwaiti people? All these actions arise from thisman wanting to dominate the middle east with non-conventional poisonous weapons through persistent violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which, despite the inaccurate and illiterate niggling which has occurred, fully authorise the action that is being taken today--and previously. There would be no need for military action or a no-fly zone if Saddam Hussein did not massacre his people, as he has again recently. The Government should continue with the action that they have bravely undertaken in collaboration with the United States Government. It can end only when Saddam Hussein either at long last complies with the Security Council resolutions or is turned out. Mr. Robertson: I thank my right hon. Friend for his support, which has been consistent down the years, as has his support of the Iraqi people and his opposition to the regime that has visited so much misery on them and their neighbours. He is right to point to the annexation of Kuwait and the renewed threat in the past two months to the borders of Kuwait. I keep hoping--perhaps it is a vain and naive hope--to hear some of my right hon. and hon. Friends plead with the Iraqis to release the prisoners of war, the disappeared, who were taken from Kuwait following the Gulf war and have not been heard of since. I am glad that the UN Security Council has set up three panels--one on disarmament, the second on the humanitarian needs of Iraq and the third on the Kuwaiti disappeared. It would be nice to hear some of those who express an interest in this subject, and who may even have back channels with the Iraqis, saying a little more about that. To reinforce my right hon. Friend's point about the regime, what kind of leader watches his children die and his hospitals operate without drugs, but keeps $275 million-worth of medicines and medical supplies locked up in a warehouse? Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): The Secretary of State has talked about the risks that RAF pilots are taking, and he has rightly drawn attention to the dedicated efforts that the RAF makes in the area. However, will he answer the specific question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who asked what the status 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1220 of RAF pilots would be if they were downed on Iraqi territory? Would they be prisoners of war, or would they come into another category? Mr. Robertson: I answered the question, and I will answer it again. The obligations of the Geneva conventions apply to Iraq, whether there is a declaration of war or not. The mission of those pilots is humanitarian in its purpose. Iraq would have to, and would be, obliged to adhere to the Geneva conventions. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): A few moments ago, the Secretary of State spoke of his ordering of British pilots into battle against Iraq. A few minutes before that, he said that there was no declaration of war against Iraq. Will he make absolutely clear the state of relations between Britain and Iraq? What are the long-term objectives of the bombing missions and the deployment of aircrew over Iraq? At what point would he be prepared to send in ground troops? Many people wish to know--not as apologists for Saddam Hussein, but as supporters of the Iraqi people--the exact long-term objectives of Britain and the United States in the region. Mr. Robertson: The objectives are absolutely clear: to get Saddam Hussein to comply with the terms of the resolutions that were adopted by the United Nations after the Gulf war, to which Saddam Hussein subscribed, and to ensure that Saddam does not represent a continuing threat to his neighbours in the region and, through that, to international stability. Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware how sickening it is for the vast majority of us in the House to listen literally day by day to those who echo the views of the murderous regime in Baghdad, who use every opportunity in the House of Commons--an opportunity which people in Iraq do not have--to express the views of Saddam Hussein? As my right hon. Friend said, the people who opposed the liberation of Kuwait nine years ago are the ones who now echo the views regarding the no-fly zones. Has my right hon. Friend noticed one difference, however, in the contribution from the critics today? Has he noticed that whereas, previously, they said, "All that is happening is due to President Clinton trying to save his job," they do not say that today? No doubt, however, other smears and innuendo will be used to try to prevent the humanitarian work which my right hon. Friend has described, and which is undoubtedly supported by a large majority of people in this country. Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is right. I believe that what we are doing is not only right but supported by the vast majority of people in this country. When, at times, I feel intemperate and feel that this man's threat to the countries of the Gulf that I visited last month should be better appreciated by more people in the House and throughout the world, I reflect on the fact that this is a democratic House--that this is a Parliament in which people are allowed to say what they want, however repugnant it may be, however unfashionable it may be, but at the end of the day the people will decide. In Iraq, no one has any such liberty. Anyone who does not agree with Saddam, even on details, is unlikely to stay alive for long. 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1221 Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): I wonder whether I can press my right hon. Friend on the exact objectives. He said that one of the objectives was to bring Saddam Hussein to the point at which he was no longer a threat to other countries in the region. At what point do we judge that that point has been reached? After all, Saddam Hussein is a butchering psychopath who slaughtered his own people; at what point does he cease to be a threat to the other countries of the region? Does what my right hon. Friend said imply that an objective of policy is to remove Saddam Hussein from office? I should have thought that most hon. Members would agree that any influx of weapons into that volatile region would not be the best idea. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could tell us why, in those circumstances, Britain recently gifted--not sold--missiles to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend asks what we mean by "when Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat". The resolutions passed following the Gulf war clearly set out the terms that he was expected to adhere to. The disarmament that is laid out there is the matter that has been the source of so much controversy. UNSCOM was the means by which the United Nations sought to find out what weapons Saddam had, especially weapons of mass destruction, and to destroy them. UNSCOM found out an immense amount and destroyed a lot of the weapons, but the United Nations believes that he still has those capabilities and some of those weapons of war. Compliance is the standard set for Saddam. It is not part of our policy to remove Saddam Hussein from office. That will be done by the Iraqi people in their good time. What we can do is point out to them through every available channel that he is, as my hon. Friend rightly says, a butcher, and a butchering dictator. My hon. Friend says that we should not sell weapons, apparently, to the region. However, the Gulf countries are friendly countries, they are allies of ours, and they have every right to self-protection, especially as they live in the close neighbourhood of the Iraqi regime. My hon. Friend mentions a specific gift, which is a technical description, of some precision-guided weapons. Those have been given to Saudi Arabia to replace the JP233, which we previously sold to Saudi Arabia, but is not compliant with the Ottawa convention which we have signed. The weapons are simply a substitute for weapons that that country bought. That seems to be in the interests of Saudi Arabian self-defence and our commitment to abolishing all forms of anti-personnel land mines. 4 Mar 1999 : Column 1222 Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I have no problem condemning Saddam Hussein or associating myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) that Saddam is a "butchering psychopath", nor do I have any difficulty calling for the release of the disappeared, although I do not have any avenue of expression into Iraq, other than views expressed in the House. However, is it not one thing to engage in bombing and economic sanctions, and another to imply that that is problem free and that no moral difficulties attach to it with regard to the condition of the Iraqi people? The major blame is with Saddam Hussein and has been since the start of the Iran-Iraq war, but our response to that evil also creates adverse conditions for the Iraqi people. That should be seen by the Government as a problem. They should not treat the matter with glib answers and put all the blame on to Saddam Hussein all the time, as though our response to the situation did not create secondary problems. Mr. Robertson: I do not know where my hon. Friend is directing his accusation of glib responses. My responses are far from glib. Foreign Office Ministers--the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), is present--and we at the Ministry of Defence spend a great deal of time considering precisely the problems that my hon. Friend outlines. That is why the Government convened a humanitarian conference last year which was directed specifically at examining ways in which we might be able to help the people of Iraq, while making sure that the isolation of the regime continues. That is why this country is the second largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Iraq, and why we sponsored the resolution that doubled the amount of oil that could be sold for food. That is also why I remind the House and the country that, at a time when Saddam Hussein says that his children are dying because there are no medical supplies, he has $275 million-worth of medicine and drugs locked up, which he will not distribute. He cannot skate away from his responsibilities by saying that sanctions have been imposed, because he will not comply. If he complies with the resolutions and the will of the international community, the sanctions will be removed and the Iraqi people will be allowed to get back to a life of normality. I doubt, however, whether there will be full normality until Saddam has gone. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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