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Perspectives

November 11, 2009
Conflict endures in Ethiopia’s ethnic Somali Region

Map of Ogaden, Ethiopia courtesy of Wiki user Lencer.

The violent, separatist conflict in southeastern Ethiopia known as the Somali region or Ogaden has been referred by some as the next Darfur. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives over the last 15 years.

Ethiopia sealed off the region to media so there is little accurate information about the conflict, including claims of human rights abuses.

The region is rich in natural gas and is home to about 5 million predominantly Muslim people, mainly ethnic Somali nomadic tribes. The U.S. has said little about the conflict, as Ethiopia is its main regional ally in the increasingly unstable Horn of Africa region.

Worldfocus interviewed David H. Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. Amb. Shinn is currently an adjunct professor of international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. His research interests include China-Africa relations, East Africa and the Horn, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, conflict situations, U.S. policy in Africa and the African brain drain.

Worldfocus: Ethiopia has labeled the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) as a terrorist organization. Is this an accurate description?

Amb. Shinn: While the ONLF has on occasion used tactics that qualify as terrorist — for example the kidnapping and/or killing of civilian Ethiopian government officials — it does not have any links of which I am aware with international terrorist organizations.

It receives external support from the government of Eritrea, which opposes the government of Ethiopia. It also receives financial assistance from Ogadenis in the Somali Diaspora. In 2007, 74 persons, including nine Chinese oil field personnel, were killed during an ONLF attack on a Chinese oil exploration work site in the Ogaden protected by Ethiopian troops.

The Chinese may have died in a crossfire between Ethiopian and ONLF forces. In the view of the U.S. government, ONLF activity so far does not meet the test of a terrorist organization. Should the ONLF escalate its tactics, however, this could change.

Worldfocus: The U.S. denied Ethiopia’s request to label the ONLF an international terrorist organization but also remained silent on claims that the Ogaden region is potentially the next Darfur. Ethiopia has shut down media access to the region, so accusations of human rights abuses are unconfirmed. Should the U.S. and other Western countries be speaking out?

Amb. Shinn: On those occasions when there are carefully documented human rights violations by the government of Ethiopia, the ONLF or any other organization, the U.S. and the rest of the world should speak out.

Virtually all of the information coming out of the Ogaden comes from either the Ethiopian government or the ONLF. Much of the information from both sides is unreliable. The problem, therefore, is making certain that accurate information exists before speaking out publicly. A good start would be a willingness by the Ethiopian government to allow independent, third party observers into the Ogaden to provide information about events there.

Worldfocus: Do the 4.5 million ethnic Somalis living in the region mostly support the ONLF? Do the majority of Ogadenis want to secede from Ethiopia?

Men chewing khat in Jigjiga, the capital of Ogaden. Photo: Flickr user CharlesFred

Amb. Shinn: It is impossible to know with any certainty what Somalis in southeastern Ethiopia really want. Because of the difficult security situation, there are no public opinion polls in the area. I think it is reasonable to conclude that the vast majority of Somalis feel marginalized in their own country and that most of them have legitimate grievances against government policies. But do most of them support the ONLF? There is no conclusive evidence.

Not all of the Somalis living in Ethiopia’s Region Five or Somali Region are ethnic Ogaden Somalis. There are significant numbers of non-Ogaden Darod, Isaaq and Dir. Ogadeni from the Darod clan constitute the most numerous group of Somalis and occupy the largest geographical part of the region.

While there may be widespread support for the ONLF by the majority Ogadeni, many Somalis from other clans are concerned about Ogadeni domination. It is even less clear whether the Ogadeni who support the ONLF agree on a political outcome for the region.

Worldfocus: Do Ogadenis have irredentist tendencies, and what is their relationship with Somalia?

Amb. Shinn: In March 2009, there was a leadership split in the organization. The leader of the main faction of the ONLF, Mohamed Omar Osman, is on the record as saying that he wants to hold a referendum so that the Somalis in the region can determine if they wish to remain part of Ethiopia, become an independent country or join with Somalia. It is my understanding that the leadership of both factions of the ONLF prefers an independent Ogaden.

Worldfocus: With national elections slotted for next May, what is at stake for the ONLF and their representation or lack thereof in the Ethiopian government?

Amb. Shinn: Ethiopian national elections in May 2010 will probably change nothing in the Ogaden. Because of the difficult security situation, it is doubtful that elections can even take place in much of Somali Region.

The ONLF, although it participated in the government as a political organization from 1991 to 1994, has shown no interest in rejoining the political process. Even if it believed that the Ethiopian government would allow it to compete freely and fairly as a political party, which it does not believe to be the case, it does not appear that the ONLF is prepared to lay down its arms.

The head of the original ONLF faction, Mohamed Omar Osman, did state in October 2009 that he is prepared to engage in negotiations with the Ethiopian government, but only in the presence of a neutral third party and in a neutral location.

– Lisa Biagiotti

For more Worldfocus coverage of Ethiopia, visit our extended coverage page: Ethiopia Past and Present.

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Comments

47 comments

#47

David Shinn was a low level civil servant who makes a living today telling every interviewer what they want to hear. He’ll tell you whatever you need to hear in order to help promote himself, and his book.

Ask the Chinese, they will tell you their oil workers were machine-gunned in bed in middle of the night by ONLF cowards.

#46

we know what is going on in ogaden yet to come back #31 cakara news u need help u sick supporting Males and his army i will come to ogaden yet i will make sure u and anybody that give any ogaden people will pay for it. promise

#45

We are the Somali ogadenis and we want freedom just like everybody else in the world. We are not asking anybody to give us that freedom. Our forces are committed to get us the freedom we want.Ogadens freedom is not your responsibility so shut the hell up. One day Ogaden will be free without your comments you idiots!

#44

dhdfhfg

#43

I don’t understand why most Ethiopian highlanders have no sympathy to our suffering. Aren’t they human beings.

Ogaden people are fighting for no more than their basic god given rights.

For generations we suffered under successive Ethiopian regimes.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH..

#42

I’m Tigrai and I don’t believe that let alone any other natioalities, Meles has not even be fair to Tigrai people. Believe it or not, the worst enemy that Meles has today is from Tigrai. He discredited the name of TPLF and created enemies for our people. He dismantled the order of the EPRDF and monopolized everything. He attacked our Somali brothers and left them the first enemy of Tigrai. He abused the human rights violations in the Ogaden, which to may understanding are the mother of the current Ethiopia freedom that EPRDF is proad of. There are few number of Amharas and Oromo which believe that Tigrai people are all enemies and share the wrong vision with dictator Meles, but the majority of the Ethiopian know that Meles did not spare anyone. And he will get what he desreves in the next upcoming election. Finally I would like to attract the attention of Embassador David Shinn to understand that the constitution of the currentt Ethiopia allows nationalities to be from and there is nothing worng with ONLF to claim freedom.
Gebrezadiq
Meqele.

#41

ONLF ARE FIGHTING ONE OF GREATEST DICTOTORIAL REGIME ON EARTH.THOSE WHO ARE NEGATING THEIR COURSE ARE JUST DAYDREAMERS.YOU CAN NOT WIN FREEDOM WHILE SLEEPING,LEARN FROM ERITREANS COMMRADES.ONLF WILL HAVE UPS AND DOWNS JUST LIKE ANY OTHER FREEDOM FIGHTERS THAT DOES NOT DISQUALIFY THEIR COURSE.WE WILL BE FREE HOW EVER IT TAKES WHETHER THE LIKES OF DAVID SHINN AND THOSE SOMALIS WHO OPPOSE OUR JUST COURSE.FREEDOM WILL PREVAIL.THANX TO ERITREAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS FOR THEIR HELP.

#40

Ambassador David Sheen is, of course, free to say whatever he wants but the fact remains that Ogadenis don’t really care what he has to say because we knew his position very well during his ambassadorial tenure in Addis Ababa.

Furthermore, ambassador Sheen is at it again by claiming that ONLF is a divided organization and that “on occasion used tactics that qualify as terrorist”. What a wishful thinking. Mr. ambassador you should know better that ONLF is neither divided nor a terror organization. Meles Zenawi and his hired heavyweight US lobyists spared no effort in attaching terror label to ONLF especially when it was dangerous and vogue to do so but as is known it didn’t stick. Your own former Secretary of State and administration were not convinced and rejected charges.

Whatever the ambassador says or accusses of ONLF has no effect whatsoever on our struggle.
After long and painful 16 years of armed struggle, ONLF and the Ogadeni people have already matured and are in a position of sustaining the struggle without anyone’s help.

As for those individuals who posted negative comments about ONLF, I can only say that you can not deceive anyone and we know that you are impersonators.

Toffic (#39)I can hear you, but why do you think your point can make sense when Ogadenis have been having the same raw deal from every past regime in Addis Ababa for over 6 decades?.

Ogadenis made horrendous sacrifices to be where they are today and are not only extremely glad that ONLF have withstood all the arsenal that TPLF regime can muster and could throw at them for the last 16 years but bettered them. It is plainly clear that while TPLF’s graph is on the decline, the ONLF’s is on the rise as evidenced in the last well planned and implemented ONLF onslaught on 9 distant TPLF bases in 6 regions in the Ogaden.

The only question here is how soon the ONLF’s final victory would come, which of course we hope would be sooner rather than later.

Victory belongs to Ogadenis and their ONLF.

#39

as an Ethiopian, i love my Somali borthers and sisters, we live side by side here in Addis Ababa, but what i really don’t get is why they want to be separated from there brothers? anyway do u really think that the best thing for ogaden region is to be independent? if they are independent because there are going to be a small country the nebhor nations will take advantage of the situation and might attack it for its natural resources, and who do u think will protect u then? the UN? they might be some unfair things being done in ogaden but the ogdeain army in my opinion should become a peaceful political party and make arrangements with Ethiopian government and use the resources of the land for the development of their people, they could build roads, schools and universities by the money they get from there land. And if they Ethiopian government didn’t give the fair share of the money from the land resources to the people and if they people didn’t show any sign of development after a year or two after the oil is out then I myself will support the independence of the ogadin region.

and bout Eritreans, do u think they are developing now they are free? they are coming to addis ababa in numbers now cause they can’t live in their own country because of the hardship, and we have welcomed them into our homes with open arms in here because despite everything that has happened most people see them as part of the nation.

#38

Abdi#37. I hear your point, but bro the issue is not as easy as ” black and white” or evil vs good. Before I say anything please do some background research on the history of ONLF and its useless struggle in the region, while taking into consideration ONLF have a real opportunity to be a political forces for good in the early years of the existing federation of Ethiopia. I believe No one is more Ogaden and pro democratic and free Ogaden than I am, but the reality is, ONLF and its current leaders will only destroy our people rather than achieve anything…… Remember the ONLF’s aim is not to free Ogaden it is to get a deal for themselves.

#37

ahmed # 31 you must be stupid, what do you think wayanaas, are they good or bad? Somali were bleeding for last 90 years for ash treatment from
Ethiopia leadership, this people just want life
and freedom only, they don’t invented some bodier
country, so please be fear and reasonable . ONLF isn’t in Maqala, trigrain capital.they are in the Somali region or Ogaden.these people will be free no matter what.Trigrain is 6% percentage in Ethiopia, this will be a history, when they be dived ed soon. so watch you tongue,and support
the victim. 6 million Somalis can’t be hostage by trigrian.Divid Shin is lobbist for Zanawi he know very well what is happening, but he care less. He advocate for Trigrian leadership.and the death for the rest.He never talk about Gambela, they lost 500 intellectual and children in matter of
hours Trigrian thug in name of Ethiopian flag.

#36

ahmed # 31 you must stupid, what do you think wayanaas, are they good or bad? Somali were bleeding for last 90 years for ash treatment from
Ethiopia leadership, this people just want life
and freedom only, they don’t invented some bodier
country, so please be fear and reasonable as. ONLF is in Maqala, trigrain capital.they are in the Somali region or Ogaden.these people will be free no matter what.Trigrain is 6% percentage in Ethiopia, this will a history so watch you tangue
6 million Somalis can’t be hostage by trigrian.
Divid Shin is lobbist for Zanawi he know very well what is happening, but he care less. He advocate for Trigrian leadership.

#35

i thing the people in ogaden need to get freedom so i want to tell amb.david shinn why usa not supporting this people to reach their goal thank you

#34

Thanks to ONLF and its myopic good for nothing leaders, it is the ordinary Ogaden people in the region who suffers most. I think the time has come for Ogaden intellectuals and religious leaders to come together and reclaim their people from this Eritrea financed mercenaries before its too late!

#33

ONLF do not represent Ogaden people, they are cheap mercenaries employed by a ruthless tyranny (afawerke of Eritrea) the sooner this terrorist are wiped out the better for the social and economic development of the region and its people.

#32

There is only one solution for the never-ending plights of the Somali region and that is to dismantle and eradicate the so call Ogaden national liberation front, they are the cancer of the nation who rendered Ogaden people who they are today

#31

ONLF is a terrorist organization which terrorize the people in Somali Region. ONLF had killed 5,000 local Somalis for the last five years. They burned down or destroyed more than hundred houses and vehicles

#30

Terror breeds Terror,

who cares these days? who cares about who? every body is safeguarding his own intrests no matter what. the west sees their intrest in ethiopia and are closely watching they dont care about antything else
they dont care about whose rights are abused or what ever else

why is darfur so important? while somalia was ignored and the most tragic things are going on in Ogaden?

Who is the Hugue? who is the UN?

No body care no body cares about human rights. it simply doesnt work anymore.

SO GO GO GO fight for your freedom and when you harm your enemy he will feel it.

GO FREE YOUR PEOPLE FROM OPRESSION NO MATTER WHAT!

#29

I think that Amb. Devid Shin is not neutral about the situation of Ogaden when he is saying ” it does not appear that the ONLF is prepared to lay down its arms.” ONLF are freedom fighters structurally cure of dictatorship and colony is fighting not to welcoming with flowers. In other hand no one is hiden what is going on in Ogaden-somalis region western countries they can see thruogh settelite burning cities and everything which is happening there.

Days of Tigray are numbers and will finish soon
Victory to freedom fighters 4ever.

#28

We will never have a peace in the horn until this land called “Ethiopia” sliced to the rightful owners and the Weyane cliques are cornered to their arid lands.

#27

The west particulary USA & Israel support to Ethiopian government arises from the cooperation between the religion christianity. Majority of East Africa. The population of the Ethiopian region nearly 70%-80% is muslim but do not had their rights for 200 years today their are fighting for their rights in violent way because nobody care. If this continue the only alternative the people in Ethiopia – Eritrea and Sudan is create an islamic resistance army or join or support Alshabab. Alshabab is radical but Melez Govenment is more radical against muslims and have done more warcrime, watch facts link down .

Alshabab want to free Muslims in East Africa from oppression but in radical way.
Why are the west silence of the conflict in Somali region in Ethiopa? but talking more about of the oppresion in Sudan?

The west particulary the powerhouse USA Double standning will reduce future cooperation.

CHINA WILL BE THE AFRICAN FUTURE.

Facts
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/12/ethiopia.humanbehaviour

http://www.cfr.org/publication/9557/

#26

We, as Ogadenians, are fighting for our rights in Ogadenia and will continue fighting against Ethiopia even hundred years coming.

We hope the dream of Ogaden people which is always “independence” may become true one day, God willing.

Ogadenia will be free.
Abdullahi

#25

ONLF are the freedom fighters of east africa.. Ogadenis will win this war, and will gain their independence…

#24

ogaden will be free

#23

there is genocide in ogaden state,nad the world are watching the blood of innocent ogaden civilians.
america and westren are the one supporting,for money and all kind of waring facilitation,david almost is supporter,hes isn,t neatral.ogaden people will be free for some day.

#22

Hallo people.first you create hell on earth(America &co)then you talk about genocide.Stop suporting Ethiopia who is Terrorising the Somali People In Somlia and Ogadensomlis…I am Eritrean..we fought for more than 30 years for our right. Divide and rule system…Playing upon the east African Brothers. Hope that meles will be Punished for the Barbaric Genocide in somalia,and in southern Ethiopa as well.we need Peace In our Continent.specialy eastern Part of Africa(horn of Africa).so many Refugees
Destabilized children and Women…I feel sorry for them.

#21

yesterday it was a remmembrance day(11/11/09) for the people who fought and won the war and people who lost the war.There was tears in the eyes of a senior(old)men and women alike at the international centr of memoriale parks arround the world.Everybody stop exactly at 11:ooam for five(5) minute.The whole city was silent as if we were at the night time where nobody moves.where i was that time? i was at the middle of the road walking and talking to a friend when someone told us you guys must stop for a five minute.then,we respect and accept the request of the gentlewomen.Then i chat with my friend and asked me,who will remmember and stand for the innocent people of Ogaden who are still suffering at this time,while the very people who transfer their country to ethiopia in 1954 are also remmembering their fallen comrades in the war.

#20

David Shinn does not speak the truth everytime he is intervied. He says Eritrea is a poor country at the same time he says Eritrea helps the Ogadenis. The Ogadenis does not need help from any country. They get all their weapons from their enemies. Eritrea does not have money to throw, it is busy building its schools, hospitals, infrusructure, ect.

#19

This failed economist, a self claimed expert and an opportunist loser says:

“Even if it(ONLF) believed that the Ethiopian government would allow it to compete freely and fairly as a political party, which it does not believe to be the case, it does not appear that the ONLF is prepared to lay down its arms.”

There is no if or but here. How on earth would a snake egg of Woyane “would allow it(ONLF) to compete freely and fairly as a political party” to produce a pigeon, unless this loser is dreamining? What would the 2005 peaceful election teach us that, the Tribalist mafia Woyane, with the help and benediction of Jimmy Carter and Co., the likes of David Shinn, who rigged the election be fair and free, in light of the open ethnic cleansing?

This myopic loser, sponsor of the Ethiopia-Eritrean war and advisor of “No-War, No-Peace” status between Ethiopia and Eritrea, had predicted that Eritrean economy will collapse. Now we’ve seen whose economy has collapsed and who is in state of disintegration, on top of human made famine.

His apologistic analysis fiasco, as usual, is dead on arrival.

Mr. Opportunist: Dare to say Spade is Spade.
Stop sponsoring and covering up ethnic cleansing!

Victory to the ONLF, the people’s voice !

#18

yasmin, i don’t think you are somalis as a blood
or you been brainwash very good, you need to be there and see
how peoples is suffering, onlf come from peoples
who their kids is destroyed by Meze thug in name of Ethiopia.David shin is Meze is best friend so they shouldn’t trust him as neutral person, because you can see it how he divided with poor
Somalis in tribes while whole Ethiopia under ti grain occupation and they are a tribe, What would like to hear from David shin is how meze misuse American taxpayers money, the reason was to help
poor peoples. not to creater heel on earth by the poorest peoples in world and kill American reputation in eastafrica, they can use those millions dollar for all of other good reasons, but they give him for a good heart and kindness
from American peoples.

#17

yasmin, i don’t think you are somalis as a blood
or you brainwash very good, you need to there and
how peoples is suffering, onlf come from peoples
who their kids is destroyed by Meze thug in name of Ethiopia.David shin is Meze is best friend so they shouldn’t trust him as neutral person, because you can see it how he divided with poor
Somalis in tribes while whole Ethiopia under ti grain occupation and they are a tribe

#16

Of course there is a genocide in ogadenia and I think it is the world(the west) responsibility to act now before it is too late. On the other hand it is the west who have the ability to force
Melez to allow international media in Ogaden.

#15

ogaden will be free

#14

I would like to extend my best gratitude to the world focus, then, let my express my point of view, I know very well david`s pollicy on ogadenia, he is not neutral but openly supports ethiopian regime for no clear reason, there fore, I would like to suggest to honourable david shine to be hosnest, and at least try to “give the devil his due” he was the former ambassador to Ethiopia but never ever say a sincere word to the brutal regime of Addis ababa. it is quite clear that Ogaden region is under the yoke of melez , but finally allah may accept the supplication of the oppressed then will be a freedom for ogadenia. may allah grant us a speedy freedom!! amen!! amen!!

#13

I would like to extend my best gratitude to the world focus, then, let my express my point of view, I know very well david`s pollicy on ogadenia, he is not neutral but openly supports ethiopian regime for no clear reason, there fore, I would like to suggest to honourable david shine to be hosnest, and at least try to “give the devil his due” he was the former ambassador to Ethiopia but never ever say a sincere word to the brutal regime of Addis ababa. it is quite clear that Ogaden region is under the yoke of melez , but finally allah may accept the supplication of the oppressed then will be a freedom for ogadenia. may allah grant us a speedy freedom!! amen!! amen!!

#12

I would like to extend my best gratitude to the world focus, then, let my express my point of view, ogadenis were marginalised even former ethiopian regimes how ever, this current tyrant is the worse,because it does not only ethnically cleansed them but also financially blocked. any way,allah is the helper of the oppressed

#11

David Shinn is responsible for much of the instability that we see today in the Horn of Africa. He encouraged the Ethiopian government to invade Eritrea. The Eritreans may be hitting back and supporting ONLF. It has always been tit for tat. It may take time, but Ogadenis will no doubt win their freedom. David Shinn is not neutral and should not be trusted.

#10

a competent or deligent jounnalist will not be experessed only by disclosing all inforemation but a relevant one specialy to general public.

#9

The ethiopian government in the past and the current have done NOTHING for the ethnic somalis therefore we see no use in staying with ethiopia

Yasmin…before you blame the onlf ask your self what has the ethiopian governmnet done? women are raped, villiges are burned and children die of hunger…The ONLF is whilling to negotiate but as always melez and his thugs refuse and will never allow the somalis to enjoy peace

LONG LIVE ONLF

#8

I think David Shine is not neutral when comes Ogaden issue he always sympathetic Ethiopia gover
libertarian will be prevail their Oppressive your old hisroy analysis is over now and world aware the matter of ogaden people

#7

We all know that,freedom doesn’t come easy and every people who got their freedom shed a blood and fought for it.The occupiers of that land have to feel pain and decide how long they can control a people who are fighting fro their freedom..
Ogadenia will be free it doesnt matter how long it takes..

#6

Ogadenia will be free soon

#5

I belive the U.S. shouldn’t keep silent from ONLF, and it should tell its leaders to put down arms, and participate the political process as they did back in 92. They didn’t gain anything in the last 15 years, and it seems it will remain the same if they stay on status quo. For the Somali Region to become the next Darfur, it is not only Ethiopian government’s fault, but also mainly ONLF’s.

#4

Ogadeni people never expect support from David Sheen, but they are interested to hear from his defaming their struggle as one waged by Ogaden tribe (who cares). David Sheen, tries (always)discredit the Ogadeni people’s national struggle and minimise the Ethiopia’s human right abuses in Ogaden. It is clear his partiality that when asked the genocide in Ogaden he said that it is not known with certainty due to the lack of access to Ogaden, at the same time he asseted that ONLF makes kidnaping and killings (meaning that it is terrorist. The question is David Sheen says no information in Ogadden so he did not know the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Ogaden and knows “kidnaping and killing by ONLF”. David Sheen said ONLF is splited into two factions. That is what he likes to happen. What he knows about being a faction? Did he see a faction of ONLF people opposing it. There are people(Ogadeni) who oppose ONLF. As a political organisation this natural to happen. David, tried to sound neutral but he is not, and Ogadeni people know it as Ethiopian regime knows he is with it.

#3

there is genocide wich millions of civilaians is killed, but world is using double standard as usiall nobody cares the blood of innocent ogaden civilians.

why people say we do not know whats going on in ogadenia? we now good there is genocide that no body cares instead the criminal ethiopia is supported.

but justice will prevail.

and ogaden people will be victorious.

#2

My cousin who is from the Dir clan of Somalia was kidnapped by the ONLF terrorists a few years ago. The ONLF has even killed 3 and 4 years old children of different clans. How can this shameful “ambassador” say the ONLF is not a terrorist organization?? Is the west trying to use ONLF to get oil in the Ogaden? That is the only reason why they would deny ONLF brutality. Shame on you!

#1

As with everything else in the ME, Africa, South Asia, etc. the question that should be asked at each and every turn is: WHO BENEFITS. Palestinian problem: u.s./isrial benefit; Iran: Isrial/u.s. benefit; Somolia — who loses if Islam takes over: U.S.A.; Afghanistan/U.S./EU/E.Asia – contracts/oil, etc.

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