Officials vow to make real progress towards MDGs

April 5, 2013

Lao and overseas officials have vowed to compile a report that reflects the true progress of Laos towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The officials made this commitment during a second workshop held yesterday in Vientiane to discuss the draft of the third report on the progress made towards the landmark development goals.

“I wish you well in generating a good report which reflects the reality of our situation, foresees and agrees on the challenges and figures, and how much achievement has been recorded so far,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alounkeo Kittikhoun said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

Mr Alounkeo highlighted Laos’ achievements in striving for MDG No. 1 which concerns poverty reduction. He said the percentage of people living below the national poverty line has dropped from 48 percent in 1990 to 22 percent at present.

But despite this figure having been halved, the problem persists and there is no easy solution, he said. The same is true of malnutrition, which is a big challenge and is not just about health but involves awareness, healthy eating, breastfeeding, education and issues surrounding stunted growth.

He praised the cooperation between the Lao government, UN agencies and development partners who help to find solutions to ensure better coordination on nutrition. At the same time he called on line ministries and UN agencies to agree on figures during the workshop as a basis for continuing the good work towards realising the goals.

Regarding MDG No. 7 which relates to environmental sustainability, Mr Alounkeo said land use management had been effective in certain areas but not in others.

“We should not deny that mistakes have been made and we welcome all the comments of our friends, and on that basis we will always try to improve,” he added.

Mr Alounkeo also referred to Laos’ special goal – MDG No. 9 – the clearance of unexploded ordnance. UXO is a great obstacle to development efforts as all 17 provinces in the country are contaminated with these remnants of war.

UN Resident Coordinator Minh Pham said that, despite the brighter picture, progress had not essentially been made on the situation presented at the Round Table Implementation Meeting last November. However, some detailed and supportive indicators have changed and the availability of new data such as the labour force survey did not reveal differences with ongoing administrative data.

He noted that some of the new data from the survey confirms the continuing progress shown by the administrative data such as in education, while other data also showed that progress was not as much as had been assumed.

“Some data may also show that the disparity between different social economic groups could be greater than we have assumed. I would suggest that we welcome all new data even if these will conflict with previous assumptions,” Mr Pham said.

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Hard work reaps rewards for Phongsaly farmer

By Meuangkham Noradeth
March 30, 2013

Rearing pigs for sale brings in extra income for rural folk.

A Phongsaly farmer, Mr Seng Hadxeuy, aged 40, has found that hard work and a burning desire to improve his quality of life has lifted him out of poverty, after growing crops and raising animals for several years.

Mr Seng’s family, who live in Hadxeuy village, Khua district, have shown other villagers that their hard work has enabled them to improve their living conditions and put poverty behind them.

Mr Seng said that at one time his family barely had enough to live on but since they began labouring in their fields to grow rice and rear animals, their lot has vastly improved.

He also learnt that he could call on the government for help, and borrowed 100 million kip from the Agricultural Promotion Bank so that he could plant more rice and keep more pigs.

Mr Seng said that thanks to assistance from the bank and government officials, he is now rearing more pigs than ever before.

He bought 100 piglets from Oudomxay province and after six months was able to sell them for 1.9 million kip per pig, which brought him in more than 160 million kip that year.

His family also keeps chickens and they have a pond where they breed fish. He also grows rubber, teak and agarwood for sale, which brings in more than 20 million kip per year.

Mr Seng now earns about 200 million kip per year on average, and his family is a prime example of how individuals can rise above poverty.

With every member of the family working hard together, they are now reaping the rewards of their efforts and living a better life with each passing year.

He says that in the future he will rear more pigs and chickens and grow more tree species, which he will sell.

Mr Seng’s family is not only a prime example of how individuals can rise above poverty but also of how a neighbourhood can benefit from having a family of their caliber in its midst. Their efforts are helping Khua district as a whole to move closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as targeted.

Khua district is located in a mountainous and remote area of Phongsaly province. It is not on the government’s list of the 46 poorest districts nationwide but is nevertheless home to a large number of poor families. This means assistance from the government, international organisations and other groups is critical to making a difference in the community.

People in the district mostly grow rice, rubber and cardamom and a variety of vegetables. But it’s difficult for them to expand their farmland because they are surrounded by mountains.

Khua district is home to 5,618 families. At present about 3,496 of those families are living in poverty, and district officials are not sure they will be able to declare basic poverty alleviation by 2015, and have asked for more funding to be made available to build essential infrastructure.

The district contains 98 villages, 23 of which have no road access, and travel in the rainy season is very difficult.

Average annual per capita income is now just over 2.7 million kip, and is expected to reach 3.9 million kip in 2015.

The Lao government defines poverty as not having enough food, lacking adequate clothing, not having permanent housing and lacking access to health, education and transportation services.

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Sam Sang directive to be deeply implemented: Minister

March 30, 2013

A lack of concrete devolution of responsibilities, and regulations and experience in this regard, has resulted in shortcomings in the Sam Sang (Three Builds) directive of the information, culture and tourism sectors.

The Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism reached the conclusion at a meeting which opened yesterday to review the sector’s implementation of the six-month first phase of the pilot project of the Three Builds directive. “Improper understanding in regard to devolution and non-concrete supporting regulations has resulted in shortcomings in practical terms,” it was detailed in the meeting report.

The ministry, along with other ministries and government agencies, started the pilot of the Three Builds initiative last October, aiming to work closely to monitor programmes, projects and activities at every level to ensure they are being carried out in line with the directive.

Experience in the pilot implementation period has shown that provincial departments and district offices of information, culture and tourism are confused as to which duties and activities come under their responsibility, and which ones the ministry is directly responsible for.

The ministry has recognised that because the Three Builds is a strategic and highly revolutionary initiative that has be en devised in response to modern day requirements, Party committees, leaders at all levels, members and staffers should fully understand the directive. They also need to have ideological unity and work towards the systematic and comprehensive implementation of the plan.

The ministry has sent officials to survey the needs of the information, culture and tourism sectors in eight provinces, in order to devolve responsibility. This means that departments under the ministry will now concentrate on macro management. The Sam Sang pilot project involves 17 provinces, 51 districts and 108 focal villages nationwide.

The Three Builds directive aims to build up provinces as strategy-making units, districts as comprehensively strengthened units, and villages as development units.

From the lessons learned, the ministry has studied ways to adapt the established devolution in the sector to match the requirements of the third Politburo Resolution. This stipulates that the ministry is responsible for the implementation of directions, strategic plans, regulations and development of laws, personnel development planning, science and technical research, as well as monitoring.

In the field of information, the newly adapted devolution plan stipulates that the ministry will take sole responsibility for drafting and implementing Party directions into strategic plans, programmes, projects, and regulations. However, the ministry and its provincial departments have to cooperate on numerous issues, such as human resource development planning for sub-sectors.

In regards to culture, the ministry will study and comment on technical issues in relation to any projects that may have an impact on culture, while the provincial authorities will monitor and comment on those projects which may have an impact on culture in their own provinces. The review meeting, which is being attended by officials from all provincial information, culture and tourism departments, will run until tomorrow.

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara, who is head of the committee responsible for the ministry’s T hree Builds programme, stressed that some fundamental work has been completed during the pilot implementation period.

Prof. Dr Bosengkham also focused on the shortcomings of the project, saying implementation was not only deficient, but that visits by central level officials to the provinces had burdened local officials in regards to reception arrangements.

He called on participants to actively engage in discussion on the outcomes and lessons learned from the past phase, and plan for the implementation of the directive in the next phase, ensuring there are improved outcomes and concrete devolution.

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58th anniversary of Lao People’s Revolutionary Party marked

March 25, 2013

The Organisation Board of the Party Central Committee held a lecture to celebrate the 58th founding anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) in Vientiane Capital last Friday.

Head of Party Central Committee’s Organisation Board, Mr. Chansy Phosikham lectured on the long profile of the LPRP for Party members and his staff.

On the occasion, Mr. Chansy, representing the Party Central Committee’s Organisation Board, handed over red cards to 87 Party members, of whom 24 were women.

Mr. Chansy recalled the great history of the Party dating back to 1893 when Laos was a French colony and the Lao people were under French imperialist exploitation. “At that time there was a brave struggle of the Lao people for the independence and victory of the country in 1945,” said Mr. Chansy.

The LPRP was founded on 22 March 1955, following the resolution of the 2nd Congress of Indochina Communist Party, according to Mr Chansy.

The lecture was designed to equip Party members and civil servants a better understanding of tradition, history and the significant achievements in fighting for national independence against colonial power of the Party.

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Revolutionary fighters’ remains reinterred at National Cemetery

March 25, 2013

The remains of 11 leading officials and members of the Central Committee of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party were relocated from their previous resting places to the National Cemetery in Xaythany district, Vientiane, yesterday.

The 11 officials were named as Mr Souk Vongsak, Mr Ma Khaikhamphithoun, Mr Meun Somvichith, Mr Siphone Phalikhane, Mr Khamsouk Sayaseng, Mr Khamphouang Chanthaphomma, Mr Khampha Chaleunphonvixay, Mr Thonglai Kommasith, Mr Sithon Manola, Mr Singapore Sikhotchounlamany and Mr Somsak Saysongkham.

In his keynote address at the ceremony, Party Politburo member Dr Bounpone Bouttanavong said the Party, army and all Lao people acknowledged that the 11 revolutionary fighters were brave men with a strong sense of patriotism who tirelessly devoted themselves to the fight for national independence, freedom, democracy and the prosperity of the Lao people.

The relocation of their remains reflects the great importance the Party and government attaches to the brave fighters of the past and shows the respect and the gratitude that the Party, the Army and the people have for the virtue and devotion of these 11 comrades, Dr Bounpone said.

A ritual ceremony was later conducted by monks according to religious custom to make this event truly auspicious before the remains of the officials were placed inside stupas.

The relocation of the revolutionary fighters’ remains takes place after the first relocation in March last year when the remains of the country’s first generation of revolutionary leaders, who were the six members of the Party’s first Politburo, were placed in the newly-opened National Cemetery.

The six deceased leaders were the late President Kaysone Phomvihane, President Souphanouvong, former President Nouhak Phoumsavanh, former Acting President Phoumy Vongvichit, Mr Phoun Sipaseuth, and Mr Sisomphone Lorvanxay who, along with former President Khamtay Siphandone who is still alive, bring the number of the first generation of revolutionary leaders to seven.

On the same occasion, the remains of a later generation of leaders, namely Mr Saly Vongkhamxao, Mr Maychantan Sengmany, Mr Oudom Khatthiya, Mr Somlath Chanthamath, Mr Osakan Thammatheva, Mr Khambou Sounixay, Mr Sompheth Thipmala and Mr Vaenthong Luangvilay were also moved to the National Cemetery. The main purpose of the relocation of the remains of the country’s top leaders and revolutionary fighters is to keep them all together in the same place.

Dr Bounpone headed the hundreds of Party and government officials, relatives, friends and colleagues of the 11 comrades who attended the ceremony yesterday.

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Govt approves fundamental issues for national development

March 25, 2013

Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong

The government’s monthly meeting on March 19-21 discussed and approved several fundamental issues aimed at accelerating the pace of national development, amid growing regional integration.

Chaired by Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, the meeting adopted measures to address problems related to foreign workers in Laos as proposed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. The measures aim to ensure better management of foreign labourers in Laos.

The government accepts that overseas workers are necessary at this time of regional integration but says it is important to regulate them based on the country’s laws, to ensure order and security.

The government also approved a draft resolution of the Party Politburo on converting state property into capital, before submitting the document to the Party Politburo.

The resolution calls for studies on the potential and efficient use of state property with the goal of driving socio-economic development. It is envisaged this would help to reduce the misappropriation of funds as a result of improperly converting state property into capital, of which the main examples are the leases and concessions awarded to investment projects.

The government meeting also approved a report on the relocation of government offices in Vientiane. The relocation is deemed desirable as the rate of development in the capital has surged over the past 20 years, resulting in significant population growth and increasing traffic congestion.

The report identified zones for various government offices including ministries and central level organisations, as well as plans for infrastructure development and other facilities.

In addition, the meeting discussed a draft decree on the allowances to be granted to inspection officials. This is aimed at enabling inspection officials to carry out their work more efficiently and fulfill their obligations as assigned by the nation.

The government also approved in principle two mega-projects in Xieng Khuang province. These are the Khangvieng and Meuang Mork focal point development project for poverty reduction, and the building of facilities for the 11th National Games to be held in Xieng Khuang province.

The meeting also discussed issues related to the construction of international airports in Huaphan and Attapeu provinces, to ensure the projects are implemented successfully.

Mr Thongsing called on cabinet members to ensure that revenue is collected as planned so there are sufficient financial reserves for planned expenditure in the areas of economic development and poverty reduction.

He said the sectors responsible need to make sure that all land taxes and other revenues are paid as required, and to put a stop to inappropriate tax and tariff exemptions.

The prime minister urged the cabinet to address problems related to the salaries paid to teachers and retired officials.

He also insisted that the authorities stop allowing private companies to pay for state projects at the outset and be refunded by the government later, saying this kind of arrangement will only create debt for the government.

Mr Thongsing also urged the relevant sectors to manage the price of goods sold in markets to ease the hardship of ordinary people, and to address the problem of consumers being taken advantage of by traders.

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China’s relations with Laos to remain unchanged

March 25, 2013

China’s policy regarding Laos will stay the same even though the country has a new leadership, a Chinese embassy official has said.

Chief of the Political Section of the Chinese embassy to Laos, Mr Wang Hongsun, reaffirmed the Chinese government’s policy towards Laos at a press conference held at the embassy on Friday.

Mr Wang informed Lao media of the outcome of the first session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the first session of China’s 12th National People’s Congress (NPC).

“Countries in Asia remain the top priority of the comprehensive foreign policy of China as we give importance to neighbouring countries, especially Laos,” Mr Wang said.

The CPPCC and the NPC, which took place earlier this month, resulted in changes to the Chinese government, with Xi Jingping elected as the President of China and Li Keqiang as Premier Minister.

Mr Wang said that whatever generation comes to power in the Chinese government, China’s policy on Laos will not change but will strengthen because the two countries share a common ideology in which socialism is seen as the path to growth.

Laos and China established diplomatic relations in 1961. Cooperation between the two countries centres on politics, economics, trade and investment, culture and tourism.

Mr Wang reminded the audience of the basic principles of the Chinese government’s foreign policy, which includes long-term and trusting friendly relations and cooperation that benefits mutual interests.

During the previous generation of the CPPCC and NPC, annual visits by high-ranking Chinese officials to Laos became a tradition, and will take place again this year to enhance the strategic partnership between the two counties.

Mr Wang said he was confident that the new Chinese leadership would enhance China’s policy of cooperation with Laos, the details of which will be unveiled during officials’ visits to Laos.

The Chinese embassy official then answered questions from media personnel about his personal view of the new Chinese leaders’ perspective on measures against corruption.

Mr Wang observed that high-level officials who had been found to be involved in corrupt practices had been punished.

“Our leaders’ position on this kind of behaviour in any generation is the same. The steps they take are for the benefit of our people, and I am confident that the new leaders will consider tougher action against corrupt conduct so they don’t lose the people’s trust,” he said.

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More companies moving into Thakhek Specific Economic Zone

By Somsack Pongkhao
March 22, 2013

Specific/Special Economic Zones in the Lao PDR

Fourteen companies have signed agreements and MoUs to operate in the Thakhek Specific Economic Zone in Khammuan province with total investment capital of more than US$480.3 million.

Their commitments were made after seeing the great potential of the province now that it is becoming better linked to neighbouring countries and the rest of the region.

The zone is located close to the third Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge linking Khammuan province in central Laos to Nakhon Phanom province in northeastern Thailand, which opened in November 2011.

President of the zone’s executive board, Mr Daolay Keoduangdy, told Vientiane Times yesterday that the zone serves as a focal point for attracting foreign investment and tourists to Laos and is significantly boosting the local economy.

Last week, a Vietnamese company signed an agreement with the zone authorities for a concession on an area of 14.5 hectares, to run for 75 years.

The company will spend more than US$152 million to build hotels, villas, offices, tennis courts, duty free shops, restaurants, resorts and other facilities for tourists.

Three other companies are in negotiations to sign an MoU with the authorities to run businesses in the zone. It is expected the MoUs will be signed next month. The three companies are from Thailand, China and Laos.

The Thai company wants an area of 100 hectares to build retirement holiday homes, a hospital, school, and shopping centre, while the Chinese company wants to build hotels and other tourism-related facilities. In addition, a Lao company wants to build a market and offices for rent.

The Thakhek Specific Economic Zone was approved by the government in May last year, covering an area of 1,035 hectares. Under the agreement signed between the government and the zone’s executive board last May, private developers will spend at least US$80 million on infrastructure within the zone, including roads, electricity, water supplies and drainag e.

Of the total figure, US$4.2 million has been spent on various infrastructure projects so far. The developments aim to accommodate foreign investors, and concessions have been granted for more than 50 percent of the zone’s 1,035 hectares to private companies.

Currently, companies from China, America, Singapore, Vietnam and Laos are operating businesses in the zone. These are mostly factories, vehicle assembly plants, hotels, healthcare centres and tourism-related businesses.

The zone’s management will use electronic monitoring systems to ensure the transparency and accountability of the project.

Specific Economic Zones are designed to increase the pac e of economic growth while generating job opportunities for local people, allowing them to earn an income and alleviate their poverty, and enable Laos to move off the list of l east developed countries by 2020.

Laos has been able to maintain political stability, which is a key factor in attracting foreign investment. In addition, the country is getting connected with the rest of the region and the world through new roads and bridges.

Laos also has cheap labour and receives trade privileges from more than 40 countries so businesses can benefit from this potential.

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Laos makes substantial progress in human development: NERI Report

March 22, 2013

Laos has made substantial progress in its human development over the past almost three decades, making the country one of the human development index (HDI) growth leaders in the medium human development category, a report issued yesterday revealed.

The significant gains made in economic growth and social welfare over recent years have paved the way for continued improvement in human development in Laos, according to the global 2013 Human Development Report revealed at yesterday’s launching ceremony in Vientiane.

Between 1985 and 2012, substantial progress has been made in the main HDI indicators. Life expectancy increased by 19 years, the average number of years of schooling increased by 2.5, and Gross National Income per capita increased by about 178 percent.

“Consequently, Laos has seen steady improvement in its HDI value over time, making the country one of the HDI growth leaders in the medium human development category, where it currently sits,” the report said.

The National Economic Research Institute organised the launch of the report entitled “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Overall, the HDI of Laos stood at 0.543 in the 2012 Human Development Report which positioned the country at 138 out of 187 countries and territories in the world. However, when discounted for inequality, the HDI value for Laos falls to 0.409, a loss of about 25 percent.

“Our analysis confirms a message found in every Human Development Report: economic growth does not automatically translate into human development. Significant investments in people, in education and skills as well as in nutrition and health, are vital,” said UNDP Resident Representative Mr Minh Pham.

The report examines the fast-changing world and the implications for human development at the global level.

The report projects that by 2030, more than 80 percent of the world’s middle class will reside in the South, and that the Asia-Pacific region will be home to about two-thirds of the new global middle class.

By 2020, the report projects, the combined output of the three leading economies – China, India, Brazil – will surpass the aggregate production of the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada.

The 2013 report identifies more than 40 developing countries with human development gains that significantly outpaced global norms in recent decades.

However, it warns that failure to address persistent inequalities, and a lack of opportunities for meaningful civic participation, could threaten this progress unless leaders take bold corrective actions. Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress in the world’s poorest countries and communities.

Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, Dr Bounthavy Sisouphanthong, believes the report contains valuable information about the nature of and challenges for human development that will be an important reference for all parties involved in development planning and policy making.

The HDI is calculated by taking into account the combined indicators of life expectancy, education and income. It covers both social and economic development.

The global Human Development Reports are published annually with National Human Development Reports produced every four years. Since 1998, Laos has published four national reports.

The next one is due in 2014 and will focus on achieving the MDGs as a vital element of both Least Developed Country graduation and in reducing inequalities and vulnerabilities across communities in all regions of the country.

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Vice President addresses Vientiane on Three Builds directive

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
March 21, 2013

Lao Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit (Photo: Minh Châu-TGVN)

Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit yesterday instructed the Vientiane authorities to help district and village authorities to formulate socio-economic development plans based on local strength, in a bid to spur development in local communities.

Mr Bounnhang made the suggestion at a two-day meeting of Vientiane authority on the implementation of the newly-initiated Three Builds directive on devolution (Sam Sang directive) that took place in the capital.

The directive, which features in the Resolution of the 9th Party Congress, spells out how provinces are to be built up as strategy-making units, districts are to be strengthened in all regards, and villages are to become development units. The directive has been in force since October last year.

Mr Bounnhang asked the authorities to focus on the three districts and ten villages designated to pilot the Three Builds initiative.

“The Vientiane Planning and Investment Department must lead the districts and villages designated to pilot the Sam Sang in drawing up development plans,” said Mr Bounnhang, who is Chairman of the National Committee in charge of Sam Sang activities.

“The districts and villages designated to pilot the Sam Sang must have commercially-based production projects along with other projects.”

To achieve this, the vice president suggested the Vientiane authorities send technical staff to work in local communities to lead people in carrying out production activities and teach them the correct techniques to boost productivity.

Although Vientiane boasts high agricultural production potential, the vice president noted that much of this potential remains untapped and the city imports a large number of farm products.

In this regard, he instructed officials to draw up plans and identify which crops should be grown in larger quantities, and to encourage farmers to grow them.

He reiterated that priority should be given to developing the districts and villages targeted as Sam Sang models, so they could in turn drive development in the surrounding areas.

“The allocation of state budget for investment must be in line with this direction,” he said.

To successfully implement the Sam Sang directive, Mr Bounnhang said “We must take action thoroughly.”

The vice president stressed the need to attach great importance to sustainable development based on environmentally-friendly development.

But he noted that forest areas across the capital have been occupied and overexploited, saying that forests in many areas are gradually disappearing while sawmills are mushrooming.

In this regard, he instructed officials to wisely allocate and manage land for development purposes based on sustainability.

In addition, the authorities were asked to revise legislation to ensure it was in harmony with the Sam Sang directive, which gives district and village authorities more responsibilities and tasks.

Mr Bounnhang also instructed the authorities to work harder to address social ills. He cited the prevalence of theft, bag snatching, drug abuse and smuggling, and flouting of the traffic regulations which causes road accidents, and other forms of anti-social behaviour.

The authorities were als o asked to work harder to ensure security, in order to create conditions conducive to development.

He suggested that special attention be placed on managing households, and making sure that foreigners whose documents were invalid were deported.

Mr Bounnhang recalled that taking action to carry out the Three Builds directive was aimed at realising the Resolution of the 9th Party Congress. The Resolution set an ambitious goal to reduce poverty among poor families from the currently estimated 13 percent to less than 10 percent by 2015 and advance the country further towards graduating from Least Developed Country status by 2020 and the creation of a socialist nation.

Vientiane Mayor Mr Soukanh Mahalath committed to leading officials in taking action to realise the advice of the vice president.

Deputy ministers and representatives of various government agencies also attended the meeting that ended today.

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