World : Asia : East Timor

Portuguese and Dutch traders made the first western contact with East Timor in the early 16th century. Sandalwood and spice traders, as well as missionaries, maintained sporadic contact with the island until 1642, when the Portuguese moved into Timor in strength. The Portuguese and the Dutch, based at the western end of the island in Kupang, battled for influence until the present-day borders were agreed to by the colonial powers in 1906. Imperial Japan occupied East Timor from 1942-45. Portugal resumed colonial authority over East Timor in 1945 after the Japanese defeat in World War II.

Following a military coup in Lisbon in April 1974, Portugal began a rapid and disorganized decolonization process in most of its overseas territories, including East Timor. Political tensions--exacerbated by Indonesian involvement--heated up, and on August 11, 1975, the Timorese Democratic Union Party (UDT) launched a coup d'état in Dili. The putsch was followed by a brief but bloody civil war in which the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) pushed UDT forces into Indonesian West Timor. Shortly after the FRETILIN victory in late September, Indonesian forces began incursions into East Timor. On October 16, five journalists from Australia, Britain, and New Zealand were murdered in the East Timorese town of Balibo shortly after they had filmed regular Indonesian army troops invading East Timorese territory. On November 28, FRETILIN declared East Timor an independent state, and Indonesia responded by launching a full-scale military invasion on December 7. On December 22, 1975 the UN Security Council called on Indonesia to withdraw its troops from East Timor.

Declaring a provisional government made up of Timorese allies on January 13, 1976, the Indonesian Government said it was acting to forestall civil strife in East Timor and to prevent the consolidation of power by the FRETILIN party. The Indonesians claimed that FRETILIN was communist in nature, while the party's leadership described itself as social democratic. Coming on the heels of the communist victories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the Indonesian claims were accepted by many in the West. Major powers also had little incentive to confront Indonesia over a territory seen as peripheral to their security interests. Nonetheless, the widespread popular support shown for the guerilla resistance launched by the Timorese made clear that the Indonesian occupation was not welcome. The Timorese were not permitted to determine their own political fate via a free vote, and the Indonesian occupation was never recognized by the United Nations.


In the violence that followed East Timor''s 1999 independence referendum, its infrastructure, never robust, was totally destroyed and is only slowly being rebuilt. Electricity, telephone and telecommunications, roads and lodging remain unreliable, particularly outside of the capital. East Timor''s economy relies largely on international assistance.

After the August 1999 United Nations (UN) - sponsored independence referendum, violence swept East Timor, as did widespread looting and burning and, in some cases, murder. UN peacekeeping forces quickly restored stability to the country, yet violent incidents remain possible in border areas due to incursions by smugglers and pro-integration militias.

Crimes such as pick pocketing, residential break-ins and thefts occur throughout the country, but are more frequent in Dili, the capital. Victims who resist may be subject to physical violence. Gang related violence occurs, but has not targeted foreign nationals.

Occasional clashes between members of the PNTL and the F-FDTL remained a problem. In January, a confrontation in Los Palos, in which a number of PNTL officers were temporarily detained by F-FDTL soldiers, led to the creation of an independent commission by the President to investigate the problems faced by F-FDTL and recommend solutions. On December 16, a group of F FDTL soldiers ransacked a PNTL station where a sergeant in the armed forces had been detained and allegedly mistreated. Another PNTL officer was beaten at his home by two F-FDTL soldiers, allegedly because of his involvement in the case, and there were reports of retaliatory attacks by PNTL members on F FDTL members. This incident prompted senior government officials to call for a coordinated effort to resolve outstanding issues between the police and the armed forces. At year's end, the only concrete actions that had been taken were a series of high-profile goodwill meetings and a soccer game between the PNTL and the F-FDTL, in which the President served as referee.

There were reports of sexual abuse by police officers during the year. In May, three PNTL officers, including a police subinspector, were credibly accused of raping a 16-year-old girl. The PNTL officers allegedly forced the girl into a police vehicle at gunpoint and took her to a police training compound on the outskirts of Dili, where the rape took place. The officers were suspended from duty and briefly held in prison to await trial; however, by year's end, the officers had been released. At least three other officers, including one who had previously been implicated in the assault on the foreign military team member, were accused of raping the girl on previous occasions. These officers also were released pending further investigation of the incident. The PSU conducted an investigation, and the case was forwarded to the Prosecutor General; however, at year's end, no administrative actions had been taken on this case, and no date was set for trial. On September 11, an off-duty police officer forcibly entered the home of a 12-year-old girl who allegedly had been statutorily raped by the officer's 19-year-old brother. The officer reportedly threatened the girl and her parents with his pistol and baton. After initially claiming the incident was a "family matter," police opened an investigation. At year's end, no administrative action had been taken. The delay or refusal by police to investigate allegations of rape or domestic violence was a common problem.

The conflicts in 1999 and anti-independence militia activity in 2000 and 2001 resulted in 250,000 East Timorese fleeing their homes and crossing the border into West Timor. By 2003, roughly 225,000 had returned home. During the year, an additional small number of refugees returned from West Timor.

According to the controversial 2003 Immigration and Asylum Act, foreigners are prohibited from taking part in political activities. This provision could preclude foreigners and international NGOs from assisting labor unions or projects to promote the development of civil society, and it could also allow the Government to restrict noncitizens from monitoring the criminal or judicial systems. In addition, the law allows the Government to prohibit foreigners from holding conferences and cultural exhibitions if the Government believes that the activities would jeopardize the interests of the country. An exception in the law exempts activities contracted by government institutions, funded by bilateral or multilateral assistance programs, and aimed at training or strengthening democratic institutions that are constitutional and regulated by law or strictly academic in nature. In November 2003, government officials threatened to use the act against the International Republican Institute (IRI), apparently in response to press reports that characterized the results of an IRI-sponsored public opinion poll as unfavorable to the Prime Minister. Members of Parliament told the IRI that the President of Parliament had ordered them to stop attending meetings of the Women's Caucus that were sponsored by the IRI.


The country is extremely poor, with two-thirds to three-fourths of the population of 924,000 persons engaged in subsistence agriculture. Per capita gross domestic product was approximately $430. The majority of the population had basic shelter and sufficient food supplies. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of the country's infrastructure was severely damaged by the systematic scorched-earth campaign that Indonesian military and militia forces conducted in 1999 as they withdrew. The rural agricultural economy has recovered significantly, but the country remained dependent on imported food. Coffee remained the territory's only significant export. In 2002, the country concluded an interim agreement with Australia to share revenue from a portion of the potentially lucrative Timor Gap oil and gas region. Property ownership disputes and the lack of a comprehensive commercial code hindered investment and related long-term development. Urban unemployment and wage and price inflation remained significant problems. Most observers believed that the country would remain heavily dependent on foreign assistance for the next several years.

The country's small ethnic minority groups were well integrated into society. The number of members of these groups in Parliament and other government positions was uncertain. Both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defense were members of ethnic minority groups.

Indonesian occupation of Timor was initially characterized by a program of brutal military repression. Beginning in the late 1980s, however,the occupation was increasingly characterized by programs to win the "hearts-and-minds" of the Timorese through the use of economic development assistance and job creation while maintaining a strict policy of political repression, although serious human rights violations – such as the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre -- continued. Estimates of the number of Timorese who lost their lives to violence and hunger during the Indonesian occupation range from 100,000 to 250,000. On January 27, 1999, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie announced his government's desire to hold a referendum in which the people of East Timor would chose between autonomy within Indonesia and independence. Under an agreement among the United Nations, Portugal, and Indonesia, the referendum was held on August 30, 1999. When the results were announced on September 4--78% voted for independence with a 98.6% turnout--Timorese militias organized and supported by the Indonesian military commenced a large-scale, scorched-earth campaign of retribution. While pro-independence FALINTIL guerillas remained cantoned in UN-supervised camps, the militia killed approximately 1,300 Timorese and forcibly pushed 300,000 people into West Timor as refugees. The majority of the country's infrastructure, including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems, and schools, and nearly 100% of the country’s electrical grid were destroyed. On September 20, 1999 the Australian-led peacekeeping troops of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) deployed to the country, bringing the violence to an end.

East Timor has made significant progress in a number of areas since independence. It has become a full-fledged member of the international community, joining the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It is surviving the massive exodus of UN personnel, equipment and resources, and has effected a relatively smooth transition to Timorese control of the government and its administration. It produced a National Development Plan, and its Constituent Assembly has transitioned into a National Parliament that has commenced reviewing and passing legislation. A nascent legal system has been put into place and efforts are underway to put in place the institutions required to protect human rights, rebuild the economy, create employment opportunities, and reestablish essential public services.


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. More than 90 percent of the population was Roman Catholic, and there were small Protestant and Muslim minorities. Generally, religious minorities were well integrated in society.


East Timor has provided data neither for United Nations nor INTERPOL surveys of crime; however, an estimate of crime is given in the United States State Department's Consular Information Sheet according to which…Crimes such as pick pocketing, residential break-ins and thefts occur throughout the country, but are more frequent in Dili, the capital. Victims who resist may be subject to physical violence. Gang related violence occurs, but has not targeted foreign nationals.


East Timor became a fully independent republic in May 2002, following approximately 2½ years under the authority of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The country has a parliamentary form of government with its first parliament formed from the 88-member Constituent Assembly chosen in free and fair, U.N.-supervised elections in 2001. The 29-member Cabinet is dominated by the Fretilin Party, which won the majority of assembly seats. Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin's Secretary General, is Prime Minister and Head of Government, and Xanana Gusmao, elected in free and fair elections in 2002, is President and Head of State. UNTAET's mandate ended with independence, but a successor organization, the U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), was established. The Constitution provides that "laws and regulations in force continue to be applicable to all matters except to the extent that they are inconsistent with the Constitution." Under this provision, many Indonesian and UNTAET laws and regulations remain in effect. Regulations providing for an independent judiciary generally were respected; however, the judicial system was inefficient and, at times, inconsistent.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. There were numerous reports of excessive use of force and abuse of authority by police officers. Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem. The rights to due process and to an expeditious and fair trial often were denied or restricted, largely due to severe shortages of resources and lack of trained personnel in the legal system; there also were reports of abuse of authority by government officials. It was not clear how many refugees or displaced persons wished to return to the country but feared reprisals from militias in West Timor or attacks and harassment by returnees suspected of being former militia members. Domestic violence against women was a problem, and there were instances of rape and sexual abuse. The country lacked the infrastructure to care adequately for persons with mental or physical disabilities. Child labor in the informal sector occurred, and there were reports of trafficking in persons.

The Constitution provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to persons in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The Government granted refugee status or asylum; however, there were concerns that the country's regulations governing asylum and refugee status may preclude genuine refugees from proving their eligibility for such status. For example, persons who wish to apply for asylum have only 72 hours to do so after entry into the country. Foreign nationals already present in the country have only 72 hours to initiate the process after the situation in their home country becomes too dangerous for them to return safely. A number of human rights and refugee advocates maintained that this time limit contravenes the 1951 Convention. These advocates also expressed concern that no written reasons are required when an asylum application is denied.

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully through periodic elections. In 2002, Xanana Gusmao was inaugurated as the first President, and, in accordance with the Constitution, the members of the Constituent Assembly were sworn in as the first National Parliament. Mari Alkatiri became the first Prime Minister of the country. The 88-member Assembly, elected in 2001, was charged with writing a constitution, which was completed in 2002 and came into effect upon independence. Some observers criticized the provision under which the Constituent Assembly automatically became the Parliament and a parliamentary election is not required until 5 years after independence.

Corruption in the executive and legislative branch was not considered a significant problem; however, there were credible rumors of petty corruption at the nation's port. In addition, customs and border officials were suspected of facilitating the smuggling of gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol across the border from neighboring Indonesia. In March, a company filed a lawsuit against Australia, Indonesia and other parties, alleging the parties had stolen the company's right to develop oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. Included in the suit were accusations that senior executive and legislative officials in East Timor accepted several million dollars in bribes from a rival firm. The suit was ongoing at year's end.


The Constitution prohibits such practices, and the Government generally respected the prohibition against torture; however, there were incidents of cruel or degrading treatment by police officers. For example, on April 3, a member of a foreign military team on an official training mission suffered a broken nose and severe bruising from a beating by police officers after he allegedly left the scene of a traffic accident. The Professional Standards Unit (PSU) of the PNTL investigated the officers involved and recommended discipline to the PNTL Commissioner. At year's end, the Ministry of the Interior had referred the case to the Office of the Prosecutor General for possible criminal prosecution but had not imposed administrative discipline against the perpetrators, and at least one of the officers involved had been promoted to a position of greater authority. On May 24, several PNTL officers assaulted two men who appeared intoxicated at a cockfight in Dili. The officers sprayed the men with pepper spray and punched and kicked them. The officers reportedly continued to beat the men while they were in police custody. The case was investigated by the PSU, which forwarded a report to the PNTL Commissioner; at year's end, no action had been taken against the officers. On June 18, several members of the Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) of the PNTL assaulted a security guard at a Dili restaurant. A UIR officer kicked the security guard and beat him with a baton. The victim claimed to have been knocked unconscious. The PSU investigated the case, and a criminal case was pending at year's end, but all officers involved remained on active duty. On September 22, a man driving an overloaded car was stopped by members of the UIR accompanied by the Minister of the Interior. When the man argued with a UIR officer about the legality of the number of persons in his car, the UIR officer beat the man, in the presence of the Minister of the Interior, until the victim began to bleed. The driver reported the incident to the President, who asked the Government to investigate the matter. The Office of Human Rights in the Prime Minister's Office reportedly was investigating the incident.

The PSU investigated allegations of police misconduct and reported its findings to the PNTL Commissioner. Cases of severe misconduct were referred to a newly established committee chaired by a vice minister of the Ministry of the Interior. At year's end, this committee had a backlog of approximately 75 cases. During the year, some officers were punished for relatively minor misconduct, and, in at least two cases, police officers were convicted and sentenced for assaults committed while on duty; however, by year's end, no action had been taken in a number of cases involving serious misconduct, and some of the alleged perpetrators were promoted to positions of greater authority. There were allegations that personal connections within the police force were a factor in some cases.

In a few cases, police were influenced by political pressures. In March, a district police commander was suspended after he refused instructions from his superiors to stop a rally in Suai held by an opposition party. In July, a CPD-RDTL member was arrested without a warrant after he and other members of the group hung antigovernment banners and as they reportedly were planning an antigovernment demonstration.


The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there were a few instances in which these provisions were violated. In a number of cases, persons were arrested and detained but ultimately not charged with crimes. Although this sometimes happened due to misunderstandings or because an investigation exculpated the suspect, the circumstances of other cases suggested that law enforcement officers may have held detainees as a form of punishment. For instance, on November 7, two former PNTL officers, who had recently resigned to accept positions as security guards with an embassy, were arrested and detained for 48 hours by direct order of the Minister of the Interior, allegedly because they had not properly resigned from PNTL; however, they were accused of no crime, and the penalties prescribed by law for violations of internal police disciplinary regulations do not include detention.

The PNTL remained poorly equipped and undertrained, and there were numerous credible allegations of abuse of authority, mishandling of firearms, and corruption. Reports of abuse of authority and unprofessional conduct increased after policing authority was transferred from the U.N. to the PNTL.


The court system includes four district courts (Dili, Baucau, Suai, and Oecussi) and a national Court of Appeals in Dili. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for administration of the courts and prisons and also provides defense representation. The Prosecutor General is responsible for initiating indictments and prosecutions. The Government had difficulty establishing the justice sector institutions and recruiting and training qualified judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. The judiciary's shortage of personnel, as well as bureaucratic and managerial inefficiency, contributed to the inability to provide for expeditious trials. The lack of qualified prosecutors and technical staff for the office of the Prosecutor General led to a backlog of more than 3,000 cases by year's end.

Government regulations require a hearing within 72 hours of arrest to review the lawfulness of the arrest and detention and also to provide the right to a trial without undue delay. However, because of a shortage of magistrates, many suspects were forced to wait longer than 72 hours for a hearing. This situation was particularly acute in areas that did not have a local magistrate or where authorities lacked means to transport suspects to a hearing. Some prosecutors, in violation of regulations, granted police the authority to detain persons beyond 72 hours.

A 2003 ruling by the Court of Appeals stated that the pretrial detention limit of 6 months and the requirement that such detentions be reviewed every 30 days need not apply in cases involving certain serious crimes; however, the 30-day review deadline was missed in a large number of cases involving less serious crimes, and a majority of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees

The Appeals Court, responsible for adjudicating appeals from the district courts, became fully functional and heard its first cases in July 2003. Until a Supreme Court is established, the Appeals Court remains the country's highest tribunal.

Most trial judges and prosecutors had been trained only in Indonesian law and received their legal education in the Indonesian language, while most appellate judges and many senior government officials were trained elsewhere and spoke little or no Indonesian. The Court of Appeals operated primarily in Portuguese. The UNTAET regulations, many of which still are in force, were available in English, Portuguese, and Indonesian, as well as in Tetum, the language most widely spoken in the country. Laws enacted by Parliament, intended to supplant gradually the Indonesian laws and UNTAET regulations, were published only in Portuguese, and many litigants, witnesses, and criminal defendants were unable to read the new laws. As of October 1, a decision by the Superior Council of Magistrates required that trials be conducted solely in Portuguese and Tetum.

The Constitution stipulates that all legislation, Supreme Court decisions, and decisions made by government bodies must be published in the official gazette. Failure to publish them renders them null and void. Regulations also provide for public access to court proceedings and decisions. In addition, rules governing the national budget and accounts ensure public access. The country's draft petroleum fund law was consistent with internationally acceptable principles of transparency and oversight.

There were 23 women in the 88-seat Assembly. Women held two senior cabinet positions--Minister of State and Minister of Finance and Planning--and three vice minister positions. One of the three judges on the Appeals Court was a woman.


Prison conditions generally met international standards; however, prison facilities were deteriorating, and there were a few reports of undisciplined behavior by prison guards. At Gleno prison, the deterioration of infrastructure gave rise to safety and security concerns, and there were severe water shortages as well as reports of mistreatment of prisoners.

Becora prison, which had a separate cellblock for juveniles, was used to incarcerate juvenile prisoners unless they requested to be incarcerated elsewhere. There were no separate juvenile facilities at the Gleno or Baucau prisons. All female prisoners were held in separate facilities in Gleno and Baucau. There were two full-time social workers to deal with juveniles, women, the elderly, and mentally ill inmates. All prisons operated at or very near capacity throughout the year. There were no reports of severe overcrowding.

The Government permitted prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and independent human

rights observers.

The Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), established by UNTAET in 2000, is responsible for investigations and indictments concerning genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, sexual offenses, and torture that occurred in 1999. By year's end, the SCU had filed 95 indictments against 391 persons. Of these, 290 indictees remained at large in Indonesia with little chance of being returned to stand trial. In 2000, UNTAET established the Special Panels on Serious Crimes within the Dili District Court to try those charged with the mass killings and other gross human rights violations committed in 1999. The two Special Panels, each of which consists of two foreign judges and a local judge, have exclusive and "universal" jurisdiction to adjudicate cases concerning these human rights violations. By year's end, the Special Panels had handed down 76 convictions, 2 acquittals, and 2 indictment dismissals; a total of 9 indictments involving 20 defendants and 1 appeal were pending. Pursuant to U.N. Security Council resolutions, the SCU ceased investigating cases in November. The Special Panels for Serious Crimes were scheduled to cease operations on May 20, 2005. The Ad Hoc Tribunal, based in Indonesia, failed to achieve accountability for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999. The U.N. has stated its intention to appoint a Commission of Experts to evaluate the Ad Hoc Tribunal and the SCU and recommend the next steps for achieving accountability. In December, the Governments of Indonesia and East Timor agreed to form a bilateral Truth and Friendship Commission to address a broad range of bilateral issues, including accountability. At year's end, the upcoming dissolution of the SCU led to increased public support for an international tribunal or other mechanism to bring to justice those indictees who remained at large in Indonesia.


Domestic violence against women was a significant problem and sometimes was exacerbated by the reluctance of authorities to respond aggressively to cases of alleged domestic violence. In some cases, a lack of resources was used to justify official inaction and failure to investigate or prosecute cases involving violence against women.

Government regulations prohibit persons from organizing prostitution; however, under Indonesian laws still in force, prostitution itself is not illegal. Nevertheless, women accused of prostitution often were arrested, and some were mistreated while in detention. The Government deported some foreign women for alleged prostitution on the ground that they had violated the terms of their visas.

Some customary practices discriminate against women. For example, in some regions or villages where traditional practices hold sway, women may not inherit or own property.

UNTAET created a Gender Affairs Unit that has continued as the Office for the Promotion of Equality within the Prime Minister's office. The unit provided training to women entering public service and attempted to ensure that women had a voice in government and civil society structures.

The East Timorese Women's Forum and East Timorese Women Against Violence offered some assistance to female victims of violence and established a women and children's shelter for victims of domestic violence and incest. Other NGOs supported women through microcredit lending


The Constitution stipulates that primary education shall be compulsory and free; however, no legislation has been adopted establishing the minimum level of education to be provided, nor has a system been established to provide for free education. According to a U.N. study, approximately 25 percent of primary education age children nationwide were not enrolled in school; the figures for rural areas were substantially worse than those for urban areas. Only 30 percent of children in lower secondary education (ages 13 to 15) were enrolled, with an even greater difference between urban and rural areas. At least 10 percent of children did not begin school. These statistics were fairly consistent for both male and female students.

The low rate of vaccinations against communicable diseases was a serious problem. The U.N. estimated that only 5 percent of children between 12 and 23 months had been fully vaccinated, and 58 percent of children in this age range had not received any vaccinations. Under the U.N.'s Extended Program on Immunization, vaccinations and refrigeration equipment have been supplied to clinics in locations around the country. However, accessibility to these clinics and the lack of understanding of the need for vaccinations remained problems.

The Labor Code largely prohibits children under 18 from working; however, there are circumstances under which children between the ages of 15 to 18 can work, and there are even exceptional exemptions for children under 15. The minimum age did not apply to family-owned businesses, and many children worked in the agricultural sector. In practice, enforcement of the Labor Code outside of Dili was limited.


The law prohibits trafficking in women and children, whether for prostitution or for forced labor; however, during the year, there were several reports of women and girls trafficked into the country for prostitution. In most reported trafficking cases, the victims and the traffickers were foreign nationals. While both PNTL and UNPOL conducted raids on brothels and massage parlors in Dili during the year, there were credible reports that some police and customs officials were guilty of collusion with such establishments or with those who trafficked foreign women into the country to work in these establishments. In October 2003, authorities raided a Dili hotel and discovered a foreigner running a brothel with five women who had been recruited in Thailand with promises of employment as masseuses. Once in Dili, they were required to engage in prostitution. The women were not allowed to leave the establishment without permission, and their passports were confiscated by the brothel's owner. In court, the women were issued a deportation order, and at least one woman returned to Thailand. UNMISET officials and local NGO leaders cited several instances in which foreign women, usually of Chinese, Indonesian, or Thai origin, reported that they had been trafficked to the country and were being held against their will. For example, two Indonesian women interviewed by a local NGO stated that they had been hired by a businessman in Jakarta to work as housekeepers in a Dili hotel. When they arrived in Dili, the man confiscated their passports and confined the women to his house, telling them that they had to work as prostitutes to pay back their travel expenses.

UNMISET and the Government established a working group to monitor and control trafficking. The Alola Foundation, an NGO headed by First Lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao, provided assistance to female victims of trafficking and advised the Government on trafficking-related issues.


Internet research assisted by Vivian Miramontes.

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