14 June, 2024


Preparing The Ground For Constitutional Reform 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

There seems to be a rethinking on the part of the government regarding the nature and extent of constitutional reform. The SLFP is of the stance that the Constitution should be amended without going in for a referendum. SLFP media spokesman Minister Dilan Perera said “We have spoken with the President and taken a clear decision on this. Electoral reforms must take place and a new system introduced and we believe in maximum devolution of power within a unitary state. We have also made it clear that we will not support the merger of provinces or to lessen the power of the governors to make it a nominal position.” For its part, the UNP has taken the position that it would support a system where the office of executive president would continue with special powers that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution had conferred.

A decision taken at a special meeting of the UNP Working Committee presided over by party leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is that in keeping with its manifesto presented at the last general election, it would work towards enacting a new Constitution, where the Prime Minister would be answerable to both the Parliament and the executive. It also reiterated its support for greater devolution of power within a unitary state, and an electoral system which was a cross between the first-past-the-post and the proportional representation system, which the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution has envisaged. These positions taken by the UNP appear to be a compromise in deference to the position held by leading members of the SLFP.

The statements above indicate that the political parties that constitute the government seem to be lowering their sights. This would be unfortunate. There appears to be apprehensions within the government that referendums around the world have not gone well, the most recent being the resignation of the Italian Prime Minister after losing a referendum on constitutional change. People have voted for things other than the question they were asked in it. The government position is that if that happens, change will amount to nothing. However, Sri Lanka needs reforms that are fundamental. There is a need to find a solution to the protracted ethnic conflict. There needs to be away to check and balance the power of politicians. Lord Acton’s pronouncement in the 19th century, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, holds true today as it held then. The financial corruption and human rights violations of past dispensations are still fresh in the minds of people.

New Messages 

The former government, and the Joint Opposition to which it has metamorphosed today, have taken the view that foreign interference and the division of the country are threatening Sri Lanka again. They are replaying the message of the past. However, for the past two years a key message going to the people at large has been a different and more positive one that focuses on the crucial importance of ethnic reconciliation. Reducing the level of tension and mistrust between the communities, and preventing a resumption of violence is the main priority if a stable economic environment is to be obtained in which economic investments and growth can take off. The leaders of the SLFP and UNP, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe respectively, have consistently spoken against racism and ethnic nationalist sentiment.

There is an unprecedented readiness in most of society for a system of government that would strengthen the independence of state institutions particularly those concerned with law enforcement, particularly the judiciary and police, so that they can do their work without discrimination and without political interference. The decision of the Constitutional Council to probe the conduct of the Inspector General of Police who was caught on live television acquiescing with the demand of someone more senior than himself, whom he addressed as Sir, was in accordance with popular sentiment. Ideally the independence of the police will be strengthened as a result of the probe.

Another reason why the present time is opportune for constitutional reform is that the government comprises an unprecedented coalition of the two biggest political parties in the country. The history of efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict that led to three decades of internal war was the failure of these two parties to collaborate to find a mutually acceptable solution. This was not for a dearth of enlightened leaders. The two parties had leaders who tried to solve the problems with the agreement of the representatives of the Tamil people. SWRD Bandaranaike in 1957 and Dudley Senanayake in 1965 were pre-eminent leaders of SLFP and UNP-led governments respectively. Both could not obtain the necessary bipartisan support of the other party, and so the agreements reached could not be sustained. However, today, popular sentiment in the country has undergone a change.

Opportune Time 

The seven years since the end of the war have been ones that are free of armed militancy, large scale violence or any sign of a revolt. This makes the present time an opportune one in which to involve the masses of people in a constitutional reform process that addresses the ethnic conflict as a matter of priority. The warmth of the relationship between the top rungs of the government and members of the Tamil and Muslim political parties has permeated the entire electorate. This moment needs to be taken. It might be difficult for the ethnic minority parties to come to terms with a constitutional reform that does not address ethnic minority issues.

As part of its ongoing peacebuilding effort, this past month I and my colleagues at the National Peace Council conducted four Truth Forums in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Kandy and Matara. In each of these districts, inter religious committees that had been set up several years earlier, were tasked with identifying those who had been victims in the past and persuading them to share their stories with the larger community. This was to generate empathy for the other within the larger community. It was also to convey the message that civil society itself needs to take on responsibility for assisting the victims, rather than leaving it all to the government. When people share their stories of enforced victimhood and what happened to them and to their loved ones it generates empathy in the listeners who get to know at first hand the sufferings that others have gone through.

Another reason for organizing the Truth Forums was to prepare the general population for the anticipated government appointed Truth Commission. In responding to the international demand for accountability of past violations of human rights and war crimes, the government has said it will establish a Truth Commission to be a part of the reconciliation mechanisms. Over 40 countries that have suffered war and mass violations of human rights have appointed Truth Commissions over the past four decades to deal with post-war issues of justice and accountability. The purpose of these mechanisms is not only to placate the international community’s sense of justice and accountability. It is also to involve the people in the process of transformation that accompanies an attitudinal shift from a divided past to a shared future.

Never Again 

What was significant about the Truth Forums was that they were taken seriously by all who participated in them. Between 80 to 100 persons drawn from different walks of life, including public servants, members of community based organizations and media attended the events in each of the places where they were conducted, which were presided over by retired judges or public servants. Their active and sober participation was an indication that Sri Lankan society is ready and able to take responsibility to heal the wounds of war. The time frame of the story telling by victims was not limited to the last phase of the war. It also included the suicide bombing incident that took place in Matara in 2009, the eviction of Muslims from the North in 1990 and the JVP insurrection of 1988. Over and over again those who spoke, either as victims or as observers said this must never happen again. The victims who testified will be expecting some remedial measures to be taken to address their urgent needs.

Apart from saying never again, those who participated in the Truth Forums said that something had to be done to address the needs of the victims. Government servants who attended, though not in their official capacities, pledged that they would do what was in their power to help the victims from within the structures of government. Community leaders said they would see what they could do to follow up on the disclosures made. However, along with these positive indications of the willingness of the community to take on the task of reconciliation, there were also intrusions of harsher realities. The ability of civil society organizations to solve people’s problems cannot be compared to that of the government. In one location, the manager of the conference hall was visited by the security forces. They questioned and intimidated him so much that he said he would no longer provide facilities for such a programme.

The positive outcome of the civil society led Truth Forums points to the promise of the government’s Truth Commission which is about to be established. It also suggests that instead of a single and centralized Truth Commission, a decentralized process of truth seeking could also be envisaged. Alongside the main Truth Commission there could be local level Truth Commissions that are entrusted to local community and religious leaders and which feed into the government-led truth seeking process. The conviction that the violence and human rights violations of the past must never again happen can capture the mass imagination to facilitate constitutional reform that unlocks the door to a lasting political solution to the decades long ethnic conflict.

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Latest comments

  • 5


    “that unlocks the door to a lasting political solution to the decades long ethnic conflict.”

    Sri Lankan politics to this day is dependant on ethnic conflict. You expect Sri Lankan politics to find a solution to the problem they themselves created and keep perpetuating. You expect too much.

    • 4

      Devolution of power under unitary state will not work in Srilanka as most Sinhalese are not willing for sharing of power or territory. This exercise is only to buy time to pacify international community in order to soft peddle war crimes inquiry.

      In UK where there is no constitution but for all purposes functioning as unitary, extensive devolution of power has been granted to Scotland which could be termed federal. It is working well without interference by the center because the devolution has been done voluntarily. In Srilanka Sinhalese are talking of devolution only due to international pressure and not on their own free will.

      Whatever that is going to evolve, what is the assurance that government will not interfere in the working of provincial councils. Even if the present government will not, what will happen if future governments start meddling. I am certain that even this government will directly bring all Sinhala dominated pradesiya sabas in Northern and eastern provinces under its wing rather than through provincial councils.

      Nothing has been mentioned about merger of northern provinces, not even Tamil areas of eastern province with northern province. What is the answer about settling of Tamils in their original lands from which they had been driven out which are at present being occupied by Sinhalese and Muslims. None of the major concerns of Tamils will be addressed to in the final draft which no self respecting Tamil will accept.

      • 1

        Jehan Perera, corrupt politicians like MR, Ranil and Sira are the root cause of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, so do not expect any solutions from them!

      • 1

        Dr G.S.

        What is your envisaged solution, as far as the Sinhalese are concerned, for the +50% Tamils(Tamil speaking people) presently living in areas outside North East? What the Sinhalese desire is all people to live within one unitary unit with freedom to live anywhere as at present. However if Tamils (Tamil speaking people) desire a separate homeland the rest of the island must be exclusively for the Sinhalese. A separate unit for -50% Tamils while the rest of +50% occupy the the areas outside that unit is TOTALLY unacceptable to Sinhalese.


        • 0

          Please dont create new kind of ethinc problems.

          We fought a 30-year long war.

          Collectivity succeeded eliminating Terror led by Prabakrana.

          Collectivity suceeded post war terror led by Rajaakshe.

          Now the era is dawn to work for the progress of the country but with facing Billions of debts- that Rajaakshe rulers delieberately wasted them becoming wealthy men.

          Whoever whatever being said and done, the facts related to Rajaapskeh high profile crimes/wastages are documented.


          Sinhalaya from Bonn/Germany

        • 0

          People are far from the least knowledge on Federalism or the like regional govt as practised in Germany, Switzerland or the like minded countries. So giving them a chance to clear their wrongful thoughts,now it is the best time.
          Let the debate go on – you the like men that behave born stupid will always be there. That will be not a big resistance.
          We will clear the thoughts of the masses in the days to come.

          Srilankens-PEACEFUL SINHALAYA living in Bonn-sent the message.

        • 1

          If you stand against, please let us know alternatives to solve the problems in Srilanka.

          They dont seek separate country in the NE parts.

          You just interepret them in favour of pleasing your men right ?

          Who are your pay masters please ?

          The name of god, please be away from promoting racism in this country.

          We are all srilankens. Like in present day Germany, you still have NPD or others that support anti-foreign movements – but the majority will lead them to be marginalized as no such powers will ever emerge harming folks.

          The day, we the civil society groups of the country (free thinkers) are successful in getting racial groups (be them Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or others) cornered and crushed, the day our thoughts can be pleased for a better future under ONE nation .. Unitary rule – but devolving powers as seen in Germany and the like minded developed world.
          We need to FREE from SOMAs and Rajaakshes to liberate this naton.

        • 1

          Please write the truth. 90% of Tamils living outside northern and eastern provinces are Tamils of recent Indian origin, and 90% of indigenous Tamils are living in Northern and eastern provinces. It is for this lands of historic habitation that Tamils are asking for autonomy. Tamils never said that it is exclusively for Tamils. They said that it should be ruled by Tamils according to their wish without any interference from the Sinhalese. Just like the Sinhalese are not allowing immigration into Srilanka to alter the demographic pattern and make Sinhalese minority, Tamils are against large scale planned settlement of Sinhalese in order to change the demographic pattern and make Tamils a minority. It is this willful act for political reasons that Tamils are resisting and not voluntary migration of Sinhalese for economic reason like migration of Indigenous Tamils to the South. Shared sovereignty and territory between Sinhalese and Tamils is what is prescribed for Srilanka which this government has been asked to do and if it fails, then whether you like it or not international intervention will take place to grant justice to Tamils.

  • 5


    Now that the govt has forgotten international war crimes commission, you are talking about constitutional reform and truth commission which will meet the same fate soon. Instead of showing yourself as an expert on these matters you should Concentrate on day to day problems that exist.

    A few days back Municipal Council employees of Kalmunai Muslim division collected rubbish in their area, as an act of eradication of dengu, and dumped in Kalmunai Tamil division in spite protests by Tamils. Please go to Kalmunai and solve this problem first instead of writing articles and conducting meetings to get more funds from your donors.

    By the way in spite of you living in srilanka throughout your life, you still can’t communicate with the Tamils in their language. Don’t you realise by speaking in Tamil you could touch tamils’ hearts and make them to listen and understand you easily. Come out of your majoritarian complex and learn Tamil soon.

    Be a practical man first.

  • 0

    Yes, there is an opportunity to find a political solution now but there is also a threat for finding a political solution. There are strengths and weaknesses as well in the government. The government has a two third majority in the parliament. This is an opportninity. The threat is mainly from joint opposition in paliament. This threat can be minimised using the weaknesses of the JO. Most of them are corrupted or misused power and acted against constitution.
    However, it is sad that SLFP and UNP talking about finding a solution without changing the unitary system and governors power. To find a political solution there should be a change in both of them. If that is not changed, we are going back to zero.

  • 3

    Yahaplana Ace and Prez Bodhi Sira,s mouth piece Mr Dilani says no referendum to change the constitution.He must be the smartest dude in that lot.

    Yahapalana major shareholder , financier and the silent partner, the Vellala Party TNA says it is Eelaam or bust.

    That is what the TNA mouth pierce , Vellala kid Abraham told the media quoting his boss Sambandan,s recent deliberations with UNP boss Batalanda Ranil.

    And Batalankada Ranil said he is bound by the Yahapalanam Election Manifesto to give Vellala the Eelaam .

    Complicated isn’t,t it?

    Dr Jehan and his Peaceniks have their work cutout..

    Wonder who picks the tab for those Workshops , the one Iin Matara in particular which is part of my homej turf?,

  • 2

    ”The positive outcome of the civil society led Truth Forums points to the promise of the government’s Truth Commission which is about to be established.”

    Paranagama Commission was appointed to investigate the Missing persons. About 30,000 complaints might have been received by this commission.. The commission paid attention only to the number of missing soldiers. Beyond that, even missing soldiers or the families who were hideout of their soldiers’ death, which was a burden to the Old Royals, was not its interest. So it reported 8000 soldiers were missing. It did not do any useful investigation on that matter. Majority of the Tamils stayed away from the commission. (The calculated unaccounted of Tamils during the final war days is 145,000) But the reported ones were fully taken stock of. Most of them were photographed. CIDs regularly visited their homes to observe their activities and activities of the surrounding they lived. Murder of Gobi in Nedunkerny or Padaviya(where ever the Rapist army thinks the murdered him) was carried and Jakumari’s arrest was conducted by these type of acts. The purpose of the appointment of Paranagama commission was further confirmed by reinforcing re-mandating it with to investigating war crimes. The war crime is biggest cover up being attempted for almost 20 years by UNP and SLFP from Chandrika’s time. The Old Royals who carry the cream blame of the crime floated a drama of appointing Paranagama to investigate that too. Jehan PhD has been the dominant propaganda person of this commission in the past. His experience on this game is outstanding.

    Even after all the Jehan PhDs continuous 180cm cannon balls firing for long time, UNHRC requested to fire the Paranagama Commission in 2015. Disappointed UNP-SLFP national Government came out with an “un-implementable -13A like” and “not required to be implemented by in its terms”, new game called OMP. The government never has to take any actions on this OMP. There are no date lines or deadlines stipulated for anything. The aim of this was targeted to American election, New American Presidency installation date and the UNHRC deadline date, which requested to present a final action plan of March 2017. OMP will be abandoned like all the JSV-Government pacts, when the UNHRC resolution they signed is reversed. Though government did know, without any alternative, American State Secretary Kerry, whose attention was to manage the Lankawe government in Colombo, will be going, they were not sure of who will be the follower. After the defeat of Hillary Clinton, Even Jehan PhD is accepting that many matters that government did at lip service level to satisfy Secretary Kerry has been swiftly rolling back. The two year terms tentatively agreed to national unity government is ending. Unity government is not important for any wanted constitutional change. The abolition of EP is not needed anymore. Abolition of EP needed if Tamils have a hand in electing EP. Government has learned a lesson from recent American election that the popular support needs not to elect an EP. The minor changes through the election reform will do the trick of doing away with the Tamils hand in electing EP. They tend to work on that side to stop Tamils messing their EP selection, rather than removing. EP is important to them manage the provinces though the governors. It is important to impose unitary government on Tamils. But Ranil made the Parliament as constitutions assembly at the start of the year that was only object of changing the constitution. So National Unity Government will split as they planned about two years ago, without removing EP from the constitution.

    Their hope is that they can bend Trump’s administration for them. New King has promised in a meeting at Galle that he will do that. Couples of incidents are giving confidence in them. As Jehan PhD is misinterpreting those recent referendums were loss to governments conducted them. (recently Western governments bent in favor referendums to test people’s opinion more often than earlier and the result is nothing different from the chance of an incumbent ruling party losing the government to opposition; rest of the story of “referendum is bound to make government lose” is if only Jehan PhD’s propaganda on behalf of his Yahapalanaya Appe Anduwa.) So an opinion is being created Lankawe governments should not deviate from the idea that Sinhalese are against giving Tamils any rights. If this theory is well reinforced then they can avoid the foreign pressure to change the constitution, because West will want to save the UNP government in power.

    They see American government as their target. Now, until so far, anybody in Lankawe’s opinion is Trump is neutral on Lankawe as he lacks the historical knowledge of Lankawe, unlike Hillary Clinton who had the Neelan’s friendship from University days and did know the Lankawe governments’ Appa Diplomacy games. Yahapalanaya Appe Anduwa thinks it can work on polarizing Trump’s opinion, the way Kathirgamar did with Condoleezza Rice. Their other confidence is that they successfully defeated Susan Rice and had brought Secretary Kerry, who was China’s favorite too and China funded Lankawe to employ American lobby firms for this purpose. Now Russia has achieved the same way; it defeated Hillary by funding hackers to work with Julian Assange. This gives them a feeling of “Job done well” of handling Trump.

    The strategy is complete and well circumferential, in their contention. The steps are:
    1. Manipulate Trump Administration’s opinion to shut off the initiations of the UNHRC.
    2. Put forward an argument the recent referendums are failure in the world so to save UNP government West should not press them for constitutional amendment to devolve power to Tamils.

    Little earlier Government had a dilemma. At UNHRC Tamils and NGOs demanded for first war crime inquiry so that it will naturally follow the constitutional amendment. In that case it is both Inquiry and Devolution. Government tricked IC with lot of Appa diplomacy expecting a way out when it close to American election and the deadline of March 2017.In the meantime, when the pressure mounted high, government offered a deal itself to change the constitution if it will be let to go out of UNHRC’s demand for war crime investigation. With UNHRC High Commissioner’s blessing Western countries was about to agree for this, believing they are saving their friend UNP government and getting a long lasting solution provided to Tamils and hoping Tamils’ wounds to heal by the passage of time. The mistake of the West is, they think that the UNP wants to save its government and being subjected to the pressure of West. Last time When the pressure went up, Old King made a deal with Ranil and handed over the keys to Ranil and left. West lacks the knowledge that Ranil will hand over the Keys to Old Brother Prince, who seems to be the preferred Choice of West if Ranil lose power. Time and again west is not learning that Lankawe stays in dictatorship only to deal with Tamils. So their action of installing a pro-West UNP government in Lankawe is only dream, irrelevant of whether UNP bring rice from the Moon even bring the moon itself to Lankawe. It is decided by, as JR said right during the Black July 1983, which dictator will be harder on them or suffocate them more to an early death. Lankawe’s resolve on this never changed and will never change. If pressured by West, the New Royals well how to install the future Royals. Ranil single handedly blocked ICC and went to New York to demand from UNSC to abandon the UNSG’s expert panel report. Lankawe Appa Diplomacy is well and fine-tuned from the time they showed Portuguese the path to Kotte. Through Portuguese cannon sounds saved the day for Lorenzo de Almeida that time, Appa diplomacy is very effective technique, and consistently worked very even with many Lord Soulbury, Ambassador Robert Blake. It appears that now they are confident of their skill to teach even to a Black Widow to behave well during the sexual intercourse. Sinhala Intellectuals Know exactly how to work with Trump administration if Trump’s administration rebel a lot in the future.

    The end result is government is contended it neither have to neither investigate the War crimes nor have change the constitution to devolve power to Tamils. If all work that way, and Trump administration become an unconditional slave friend of Lankawe government, Tamils hope is to think that Trump may like to return to his business in four years and that allow Tamils to revive these again before everything get too cold again.

    The possible fallout for this Appe Anduwa strategy, difficult to assign a percentage on the possibility of it, the Germany and EU cooperate with Trump on Lankawe’s resolution repealing. Many Western countries are now settling to meaningful power devolution, if Appe Aandu explanations them that it cannot do a war crime investigation and stay on the power. Angela Merkel is from East Germany and she refused corporate with Condoleezza Rice. She may come back again. If Trump work with Russia, then they can come that way to approach her. That is too remote for Lankawe’s matters – may work for something else. Further EU had suspended GSP+ not listening to America. So other Countries are not going to follow Germany even if Russia influences Angela Merkel. So EU is remaining as possible slippery spot for the Appa Diplomacy. Further, they may not reinstate their GSP+ if none of their techniques has worked in Lankawe.

    Other one, possibly a better than above is, more falls out of China-Trump relationship. America and China are heavily dependent on each other on the trade relationships. If that escalate there is full chance of America coming to Lankawe seeking to keep China out of Indian Ocean. If Lankawe follow the suite, China will hack the computers and demand the loan back. China may not benefit anything out of it as Lankawe has no way of paying the loan back on the demand, but it will keep Yahapalanaya government on tip-toe. That will force Lankawe to end the newly reconciled American- Lankawe relationship, Lankawe repudiate American friendship and lean to China to cool it. In the all above circumstances we have no need to assume 100% happening, but even above 50% of their reality will enough to be real headache to Yahapalanaya Appe Anduwa. So far Yahapalanaya, for the Last two years, has been showing the tail to America and the head to China. Trump’s administration lacks political sophistication to understand that. They look like to know only cut and try business deals. They would not buy that unlike Secretary Kerry did it.

    After two years of full campaign to Yahapalanaya Appe Aandu’s Reconciliation and developments, Koolukkum Paadi Kangchikkum Paadi Jehan PhD is dropping the bomb shell out publicly that neither devolution of power nor war crime investigation is acceptable for Sinhala Mahajan. This is only a leftover of his last essay in what, two days ago, he had argued that Chaitanta Old Royals had developed North and East very well but the Tamils have voted for Yahapalanaya government looking for a solution. He called Yahapalanaya Government to take it as warning shot.

  • 0

    “………………………………..the manager of the conference hall was visited by the security forces. They questioned and intimidated him…………………………………………”

    This is what prevents truth and reconciliation in any peace process.

    The “heroes” do not want the truth revealed.

    Jehan Perera,

    Did you report this to the “authorities”?
    If not, why didn’t you?
    Do you now see the threat under which people live in former war zones and elsewhere?
    Can any “Truth Commission” and/or “peace process” prevail against this?

    • 0

      Did you report this to the “authorities”? IGP granted on the microphone for a criminal impunity pardon. What will happen if a complaint made?

      “The ability of civil society organizations to solve people’s problems cannot be compared to that of the government.In one location, the manager of the conference hall was visited by the security forces. They questioned and intimidated him so much that he said he would no longer provide facilities for such a programme…………

      The time frame of the story telling by victims was not limited to the last phase of the war. It also included the suicide bombing incident that took place in Matara in 2009, the eviction of Muslims from the North in 1990 and the JVP insurrection of 1988.

      There is no witness protection for the Tamils. The government is not willing to get the story out. At the IC level government is suppressing the real inquiry where the affected Tamils would not mind to tell the story.

      This story telling is the Tamils those who selected by the government (like Jeyakumari) go and confess to these coolie agents that it was Tamils’ fault that the war started. It is Jeyakumaries are reviving the LTTE. Then on the other side the LTTE hacked the Muslims and Sinhala Villagers. That’s all. All what the majority like to hear. That is what the Jehan PhD struggling to achieve.

      Can Jehan PhD answer what the IC level inquiry should not be conducted but this story telling has to conducted. Is this a technique pre recording what kind of complains that Tamils have against the security forces and have the government ready for those? What difference is this making from the Paranagama CIDs visiting the complainants houses, but here a group of complainants collected in from of opponent Juries with the trick of storytelling.

      How can somebody fund an illegal activity like this? I asked last who are funding these wasteful actions? Jehan PhD is not responding to that.

  • 1

    Except those in the Parliament, judiciary and the armed forces all the rest of us are civil society. There is an assumption that only those who receive foreign funding belong to that category. If I too am admitted as a member of civil society here is one who doesn’t agree with the present constitutional reform process. And I bet there are more than 50%.


    • 0

      You cant belong to Civil society but more to JOINT opposition.

      YOu will see it man, There will be no place for Rajapakshe led extremist in this country again.

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