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Human Rights Developments

During 1996, the government of Alberto Fujimori adopted some positive steps towards protecting human rights, although violations of due process and torture remained as ingrained as ever and serious violations of international humanitarian law continued to be committed by the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas. In a welcome, if overdue development, the Congress elected a People=s Defender, (Defensor del Pueblo, or human rights ombudsman), whose task was to investigate and promote human rights. One of the ombusdman=s first actions was to draft a bill, approved by Congress in August, setting up a special commission to advise President Fujimori on the granting of pardons to the hundreds of people unjustly imprisoned for terrorism since 1992, an initiative the government had been promising for years.

This positive development was overshadowed in October, however, when Congress voted to allow the so-called faceless courts responsible for these unfair convictions to function for a further year. Established as an emergency measure in 1992 to summarily convict terrorism suspects, these courts have been unreservedly condemned by the international community for violations of basic due process guarantees which affect innocent and guilty alike.

Extrajudicial executions and Adisappearances@ committed by government forces in their continuing battle against armed opposition groups continued to decline, although local human rights groups reported several cases in the second half of the year. Violent state-sponsored abuse continued as police regularly engaged in torture as an interrogation tool; a practice facilitated by lengthy periods of police detention allowed under anti-terrorism procedures and by routine acceptance of coerced confessions as evidence in the faceless courts. In a July 1996 report, the U.N. Human Rights Committee stated it was Adeeply concerned by persistent reports of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment...@ Following the beating death of detainee Mario Palomino in a Lima police station in March, opposition deputies proposed legislation to codify specifically the crime of torture, assigning penalties appropriate for the gravity of the offense. However, the Congress failed to act on this proposal. By June some 928 police had been sacked for impropriety and criminal offenses, including those allegedly responsible in the Palomino case. In a rare example of a conviction for torture, in July a court in Huánuco sentenced two policemen to five and six years of imprisonment for beating to death a detainee, Jhoel Huaman García, in Cerro de Pasco in May 1995.

New doubts were raised about the effectiveness of measures to restore the independence of

Peru=s judiciary, which was shattered following President Fujimori=s coup d=etat in April 1992. The future of the positive efforts being made by the National Magistrates Council (Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura) to restore the tenure of judges and prosecutors whose positions had become provisional after executive branch intervention in 1992, was called into question when Congress approved a law in June creating a Council of Judicial Coordination (Consejo de Coordinación Judicial) charged with overseeing the restructuring of the judiciary and with powers to fire judges and prosecutors. Control over this body was to be concentrated for a two-year renewable transition period in the hands of two officials, both considered to have close ties with the executive branch.

The Shining Path continued to resort to indiscriminate violence against civilians as well as the selective murder of their political opponents, violating basic standards of international humanitarian law. The Shining Path detonated two car bombs during the last week of July, when Peru celebrated its Independence Day. One exploded outside a Lima police station, killing a passerby and wounding several others. The other went off in the basement of an apartment block where Gen. Manuel Varela Gamarra, military chief of the Upper Huallaga region, lived, killing a taxi driver and injuring five people.

Some of the worst guerrilla abuses occurred in the departments of San Martín and Huánuco, in the Upper Huallaga valley. Among the victims was fifty-two-year-old Julio del Castillo Rodríguez, president of the Upper Huallaga Self-Defense Committtee, who was killed in Naranjillo on April 6 by six armed men wearing hoods. On June 1, six civilians, a soldier, and four guerrillas were killed when Shining Path members led by Oscar Ramírez Durand, a.k.a. AFeliciano,@ attacked a civilian bus traveling with a military and police escort near the town of Tocache, Nuevo Progreso. On the previous day, the same group had blocked traffic at the village of San Jacinto and searched travelers one by one, checking their names against a list of local leaders said to be targeted for assassination. On August 21, around one hundred guerrillas believed to belong to Shining Path blocked the road to Pucallpa and murdered Celso Estela Pérez, whom they had captured after he had gone to the defense of his brother Casimiro, a local government leader.

Red Path, a Shining Path faction led by Feliciano and opposed to the Apeace accord@ currently advocated by the imprisoned Shining Path founder, Abimael Guzmán, was the prime suspect in a wave of killings and threats against former Lima community leaders. On March 6 a Red Path unit assassinated Pascuala Rosado Cornejo, founder and leader of the self-help community of Huaycán, who had returned to the community after a period spent in Chile, where she had taken refuge due to repeated death threats from the Shining Path. Rosado=s assassins shot her in the head, attempted to explode her body, and scattered leaflets. Several of Rosado=s colleagues received death threats, and some left the country for security reasons. On July 30, four armed individuals shot and killed Epifanio Santamaría Rodríguez, a former leader of the community of San Martín de Porres, in Los Olivos, a Lima suburb. His assassins shot him at point-blank range in front of his daughter.

Red Path increasingly turned its weapons on former comrades in the Abimael Guzmán faction of the movement. On May 2, three men dressed in suits, who identified themselves as policemen, shot and killed a Shining Path leader, Víctor Rafael Hernández Ramírez, while he lay asleep in his home in Villa El Salvador, Lima. Before blowing up the body with a hand grenade, the assassins left a card saying Astamp out revisionists and capitulators, PCP Lima Base,@ a reference to the group that police believed were responsible for the Rosado killing. In July, four hooded individuals forcibly assembled the villagers of Huacrachuco, near Chimbote, harangued them, and then separated two brothers, Beltrán and Gonzalo Principe Herrera, and a third man from the rest. They then murdered all three, who were reported to be followers of the Guzmán line, placed placards on their bodies with the word Atraitors,@ and fled in a van.

The number of killings and Adisappearances@ attributed to police and military forces continued a downward trend which has been maintained since 1992. However, the National Human Rights Coordinating Committee (Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, hereinafter ACoordinadora@), a respected nongovernmental network of human rights groups, reported several extrajudicial executions in the Upper Huallaga Valley at the hands of the army.

On August 23, soldiers detained seventy-two-year-old Nicolás Carrión Escobedo in the hamlet of Uruspampa, in the department of La Libertad, taking him to a military base. At 5:00 p.m., Carrión=s body was removed to the morgue, and the autopsy revealed he had been stabbed in the chest; his body was lacerated and severely bruised in several places. Several witnesses saw soldiers detain María Cárdenas Espinoza, aged twenty-seven, on May 27 in the hamlet of Chinchavito, Huánuco department, where she worked as a cook. As of this writing, Cárdenas remains Adisappeared.@

Investigations to establish the fate of victims of Adisappearances@ in earlier years have been halted by the blanket amnesty law promulgated in June 1995. The amnesty law prevents the courts from investigating human rights violations committed in the course of the counterinsurgency war between 1980 and June 1995, ensuring complete impunity for those responsible. In July 1996, the U.N. Human Rights Committee condemned the law categorically and called on the government of Peru to repeal it, to compensate victims, and to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations do not continue to hold public positions.

Local human rights groups continued to receive frequent, credible complaints of brutal forms of physical torture employed by the police and military against ordinary criminal suspects as well as persons suspected of terrorism. Neither the old nor young were immune. Cases documented in 1996 by the Coordinadora included eighteen-year-old Porfirio Carmen Pérez, whom police arrested on suspicion of theft in Aguaytía, Pucallpa, and allegedly shocked on the head with electricity, beat with a tire wrench, and half-drowned to get him to confess to a robbery; police in Pucallpa also detained Pedro Manuel Ruiz Brock, and allegedly beat and sexually assaulted him in a police station; in August, soldiers from the Monzón military base, Huánuco, searching for a stolen assault rifle, were alleged to have brutally tortured and raped a suspect, Juana Ibarra Aguirre. The Coordinadora also documented the deaths, apparently as a result of torture, of two young army recruits, Rafael Delgado Chicchón and Willy Zalamir Obeso Olascagua, in army bases in Piura. The army denied responsibility.

On August 17 the government promulgated Law 26,655 which established an adhoc commission empowered to review cases of persons unjustly convicted of terrorism or treason and make recommendations for presidential pardons. The commission was also empowered to recommend measures to strengthen human rights guarantees in terrorism and treason trials. The three-person commission was composed of the minister of justice; Father Hubert Lanssiers, a former prison chaplain and prisoners= rights activist; and the ombudsman, Jorge Santistevan.

The formation of the commission was a victory for the Peruvian human rights community, which had campaigned long and hard on the issue often in the face of grossly unfair criticism that it was in sympathy with armed oppositon groups. One of the first prisoners released on the recommendations of the commission was journalist Alfonso Castiglione Mendoza, who was arrested in Huacho in April 1993 and sentenced in November 1995 to twenty years of imprisonment for terrorism. Mendoza had been tricked into renting a room to individuals who turned out to be guerrillas, and the evidence of his innocence in the trial was overwhelming. In May Human Rights Watch awarded Castiglione the Hellman Hammett prize for politically persecuted or unjustly detained journalists. Forty-four more prisoners were released in October as a result of the first round of case evaluations by the adhoc commission.

President Fujimori remained convinced that Peru=s ordinary courts were incapable of prosecuting terrorism suspects. In his July state of the nation address, the president lamented that Peru lacked a Asystem of justice on which citizens and businesspeople, nationals and foreigners could rely. This is a reality we must overcome once and for all...@Yet mechanisms set up the previous month to coordinate a restructuring of the judiciary and the Public Ministry sacrificed judicial independence at the altar of efficiency. In the early hours of June 16, Congress approved a law ostensibly creating a Council of Judicial Coordination, a broadly representative body intended to improve coordination among the various agencies involved in the reorganization of justice. However, the law proposed that for a transitional period until December 31, 1998 (and extendable indefinitely thereafter) a four-member council, headed by a retired naval commander, José Dellepiane Massa, would take charge of the entire process of judicial reorganization. The law conferred new powers on the Executive Commission of the Judiciary (an administrative body created in December 1995 of which Dellepiane was also executive secretary) to Aevaluate the suitability of@ and, where necessary, suspend judges, supplanting the powers constitutionally exercised by the National Magistrates Council. It also interfered with the functions of the Magistrates= Academy, a training school for judges and magistrates established under the 1993 Constitution, by assigning Dellepiane control of training curricula. This concentration of powers to restructure the judiciary in a tiny circle of officials, one of whom (Dellepiane) was known to have close connections with the armed forces and the executive, marked a setback for judicial independence. The law sparked protests from members of the Supreme Court and the National Magistrates Association and led to the resignation of two prominent jurists from the Magistrates= Academy.

The Right to Monitor

On March 29 Congress appointed Jorge Santistevan de Noriega as Peru=s first human rights ombudsman by an overwhelming vote. The post was established by the Constitution of 1993, and its duties defined by legislation passed in August 1995. The appointment, long delayed because of disputes over the official=s powers and party squabbles over candidates, was widely welcomed, particularly by Peru=s nongovernmental human rights community. It signaled, for the first time, official recognition of the importance of the defense of human rights by a government which in past years has treated human rights organizations with scorn.

Nongovernmental human rights monitors continued to suffer harassment and threats in 1996. As in earlier years, the targets were mainly lawyers working to secure convictions of perpetrators of human rights violations. On February 18 three masked individuals visited the home of Edith Luquillas González, a member of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Pasco (CODEH-Pasco). Luquillas was out at the time, but one of her sisters heard the men threaten her safety in obscene language before leaving. Edith Luquillas and CODEH-Pasco have played a prominent role in campaigning for justice in the case of Jhoel Huaman García, tortured to death by police in May 1995. Shortly before the incident Judge Onesimo Vela Velásquez ordered that one of the police officers accused of Huaman=s death, Rolando Alejandro Huere Orey, be released without charge.

Threats against human rights lawyer Gloria Cano Legua continued in 1996. Cano was working on the case of Tomás Livia Ortega, one of the survivors of the Barrios Altos massacre of November 1991. The court investigation was closed on July 13, 1995 following the promulgation of the amnesty law in June. Cano, a lawyer belonging to the Peasant Defense and Legal Advice Team, a member of the Coordinadora, received obscene and threatening messages on her telephone answering machine on March 25 and April 3, and on March 28 she discovered that an attempt had been made to force the lock of her office door.

On April 24, Angélica Matías Ronceros, legal advisor to the Association of Relatives of Victims of Terrorism, which is affiliated with the Coordinadora, received a telephone call from a man who greeted her with the words: AHello, Angélica, I hope you enjoy your birthday, since its going to be your last!@ This was one of a series of intimidating telephone calls and encounters with strangers experienced by Matías and members of her family, which began in February. Matías had suffered similar threats repeatedly during 1995. In some of the incidents, individuals claiming to be members of the National Intelligence Service (SIN) were involved.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which monitors states= compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Peru is state party) held hearings on Peru in New York and Geneva in 1996 and issued its Apreliminary observations@ on July 25. The committee=s report categorically condemned Peru=s amnesty law, saying it Aprevents appropriate investigation and punishment of perpetrators of past human rights violations, undermines efforts to establish respect for human rights, contributes to an atmosphere of impunity among perpetrators of human rights violations, and constitutes a very serious impediment to efforts undertaken to consolidate democracy and promote respect for human rights and is thus in violation of article 2 of the Covenant..@

The committee also expressed Aits deepest concern@ about the laws which set up the faceless courts, which it said Aseriously impair the protection of the rights contained in the Covenant for persons accused of terrorism...@

United States

Washington=s human rights policy towards Peru evolved from Aquiet diplomacy@ to a warm embrace, a shift unwarranted by the limited improvements undertaken in Lima. U.S. officials increasingly spoke of close and improving relations with the Fujimori government, and almost never publicly raised human rights issues. In October, the Fujimori government used the visit of Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, to launder the image of its scandal-ridden intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. U.S. officials took insufficient steps to publicly distance themselves from Montesinos during McCaffrey=s visit, even while the press characterized his meetings with Montesinos as a gesture of support..

Montesinos, an advisor to the National Intelligence Service (Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional, SIN), which he is widely believed to control, reportedly worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.Montesinos had been repeatedly linked to an intelligence agency death squad responsible for serious human rights violations. In August, a drug kingpin on trial in Lima accused him of extorting large sums to enable the trafficker to transfer drugs without problems. Government officials promptly closed ranks around Montesinos and announced that there would be no investigation of the allegations. Human Rights Watch/Americas and the Washington Office on Latin America wrote to U.S. National Security Advisor Anthony Lake in September pressing for a public termination of any relationship the administration maintained with Montesinos. As of this writing, Lake had not responded.

In December 1995, the arrest and summary trial by a faceless military court of a U.S. citizen, Lori Helene Berenson, gave the U.S. a golden opportunity to make a forceful intervention regarding the abusiveness of faceless military courts. Berenson, who was linked by police to a plan by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) to kidnap parliamentarians, was convicted of treason and sentenced on January 11, 1996 to life imprisonment. The Department of State=s acting spokesman Glyn Davies stated on that day that Athe United States deeply regrets that Ms. Berenson was not tried in an open civilian court with full rights of legal defense, in accordance with international juridical norms...[T]he United States remains concerned that Ms. Berenson receive due process. We have repeatedly expressed these concerns to the Government of Peru...@ This statement stood out during a year otherwise marked by an absence of public criticism of the faceless courts by the U.S. government, and perhaps because it was unique, it had no discernible effect. Washington=s plea for an open judicial hearing in a civilian court fell on deaf ears, and all Berenson=s appeals were exhausted in secret hearings.

While the administration maintained an imperceptible profile on human rights issues, it increased security assistance to Peru aimed at combating narcotics. The administration spent approximately $10 million in support of anti-narcotics efforts by Peru=s police and air force in Fiscal Year 1996, and will spend a similar amount in Fiscal Year 1997. At the end of the 1996 fiscal year, President Clinton directed an additional $13.75 million worth of military equipment to the police and air force.

The Clinton administration deserved to be commended for using United States Agency for International Development (AID) funds to support human rights work in Peru, and especially legal aid for prisoners unjustly accused of terrorism. The U.S. contributed AID funds to four human rights groups which specialize in legal defense, including a legal team assembled by Father Hubert Lanssiers for the express purpose of defending innocent prisoners. This program, administered by Catholic Relief Services, has taken up 1,078 cases since the program began in 1995 and obtained the release of 274 prisoners, according to official AID statistics made available to Human Rights Watch/Americas in May. AID also contributed $50,000 to the office of the human rights ombudsman.


Human Rights Developments

Venezuela=s police captured the attention of national and international human rights groups during 1996 for the brutality with which they carried out their work. Systematic and widespread human rights violations, including torture and extrajudicial executions, were common, while impunity for the state agents responsible remained pervasive. As security forces acted abusively during the year, convicted criminals and detainees awaiting trial suffered prison conditions that violated international standards.

As of this writing, according to Venezuelan human rights organizations, state security forces committed at least 103 extrajudicial executions during the first ten months of 1996, and the number of torture cases increased over prior years. The Panadería La Poma (La Poma Bakery) case highlighted the brutality and impunity with which the Metropolitan Police of Caracas (Policía Metropolitana, PM) operated. After being called to the scene of a robbery on June 17, seven members of the PM, in the presence of witnesses and television cameras, arrested two suspected criminals. Hours later their corpses appeared at the Caracas morgue. The Criminal Court of First Instance issued an arrest warrant for the police officers involved in the operation. The Superior Court later revoked the order on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence. The higher court reasoned that, despite evidence that the police committed the killings, no one could be held responsible because the specific officers who had done so had not been identified. In another case involving Caracas police, this time in the city=s Sucre municipality, officers working in the 24 de Julio neighborhood of Caracas detained José Luis Pimentel, whom they accused of being a criminal. According to the Network in Support of Justice and Peace (La Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz), municipal police officers detained him and took him to an alley, where they shot him to death. The Network in Support of Justice and Peace reported that he was arrested while playing chess and that his neighbors denied that the death followed an armed confrontation, as the police asserted. 

Local human rights groups documented repeated violations in Apure state, along Venezuela=s border with Colombia. The Guasdualito-based Human Rights Defense Committee (Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CODEHUM) published a report in July documenting forty-seven cases, including such abuses as torture. On January 21, for example, officers of the Technical Judicial Police (Policía Técnica Judicial, PTJ) detained José Anicasio Rojas at his home outside the city of Guasdualito, transferring him to the PTJ station, where they blindfolded, handcuffed, and beat him. They tortured him by placing a plastic bag over his head. In Guasdualito, on February 19, Víctor A. Díaz Ojeda was detained and accused by the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN) and army of being a member of a Colombian guerrilla group. He was brought to the local military base, where he was tied to a tree, blindfolded, and tortured with electric current to his testicles. Similarly, GN officers detained Josué Coburuco and Gerardo Vargas on February 20 in the town of El Amparo. Accused of cattle rustling, and turned over to the army, they were tortured with electric current.

Indigenous peoples who lived along Venezuela=s border with Colombia or Brazil also suffered human rights violations. The situation was especially serious in the states of Zulia, Amazonas, Bolívar, and Delta Amacuro. In the area of San Fernando de Atabapo, Amazonas state, members of the Baniba, Curripaco, Piaroa, and Puinabe ethnic communities frequently reported to local human rights groups that state security forces arbitrarily detained and mistreated them. For example, in January, Durifa Da Silva, an indigenous man from the community of Guarinuma, was arrested by police. The officers handcuffed and harshly beat him, then left him with serious bruises on the banks of the Atabapo river.

Impunity for such abuses remained a serious problem. Four years after the bodyguards of then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez assassinated two Wayuú Indians in Zulia state, military and civilian courts continued to argue over jurisdiction, contributing to an unwarranted delay in the case. Similarly, more than three years after a massacre at Haximú, Amazonas state, in which sixteen Yanomami Indians were killed by Brazilian prospectors, the government had not undertaken an investigation, much less prosecuted those responsible. In September, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Venezuela to pay compensation for its responsibility in massacring fourteen fishermen in El Amparo in 1988, a case that the Venezuelan courts had failed to clarify. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which forwarded the case to the court, found that the killings were carried out by a joint operation of the army, the PTJ, and the Office of Intelligence and Prevention Services (Dirección de Inteligencia y Servicios de Prevención, DISIP). The Venezuelan government did not contest the facts.

While the police and military acted brutally throughout the year, detainees faced abusive conditions in prison. Built to hold a population of just over 15,000 people, the prison system was jammed with 24,000 prisoners during 1996. Notoriously poor conditions led Human Rights Watch/Americas to send a delegation to the country in March 1996 to inspect eleven prisons. This trip was followed by a mission of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The extreme overcrowding, exacerbated by severe understaffing, inadequate material support, and violence, meant that the majority of Venezuela=s prisoners were forced to endure appalling and degrading living conditions, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, which established Venezuela=s responsibility to treat inmates with dignity. Inmates routinely slept two or three to a bed, on the floor in passageways, or in filthy bathrooms. In Sabaneta prison, for instance, some inmates slept in hammocks strung in narrow pipe-access passageways between cell blocks.

Official violence against prisoners was also common. The GN maintained harsh control of a number of prisons, frequently engaging in collective punishment or arbitrary beatings of prisoners. The most violent incident involving the GN occurred on October 22. Early in the morning, National Guardsmen started a fire in La Planta prison in Caracas that killed at least twenty-five prisoners. Officers indiscriminately fired tear gas and incendiary devices into overcrowded cells of the prison=s Ward 4. Prisoners who could not escape the cells, which were locked, burned to death. Venezuela=s minister of justice reportedly described the attack as an Aunjustifiable crime@ and insisted that the responsible guardsmen be punished for their actions.

The large majority of inmates in Venezuela were pre-trial detainees, who were held with convicted prisoners. This resulted from Venezuela=s extremely long criminal proceedings and systematic denial of provisional liberty to defendants awaiting trial, in violation of international standards that established Venezuela=s responsibility to provide prompt trials.

Women prisoners, who constituted nearly 5 percent of the prison population, generally enjoyed somewhat better conditions than male inmates. With some notable exceptions, women=s facilities tended to be newer, less overcrowded, and better maintained than men=s installations, with proportionally larger staffs, less violence, and greater work and recreational opportunities. In the prison of Ciudad Bolívar, however, the women=s annex was integrated into the larger men=s facility, so that some fifty women prisoners were confined together with over 1,000 male prisoners.

Women prisoners also faced discrimination. While men were freely granted conjugal visits, women prisoners, except for a handful participating in a pilot program, were denied them.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Americas was not aware of cases of physical attacks on Venezuelan human rights monitors. Nonetheless, several incidents reflected official intolerance of human rights reporting and activism. This intolerance showed itself in the form of public criticism, part of a broader effort to discredit the work of nongovernmental organizations.

On several occasions government authorities labeled human rights monitors as criminals interested in spoiling Venezuela=s international image. In this same vein, the government rejected the Venezuela section of the State Department=s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995, stating that it was a Acaricature@ of the actual situation. The government also called into question the information provided to the State Department by Venezuelan human rights organizations.

Venezuela also rejected the findings of an Amnesty International report. Minister of the Presidency Asdrúbal Aguiar stated that the Amnesty International document was partial and based on biased methodology. Aguiar also sought to discredit the work of Venezuelan human rights organizations, whom he said provided Amnesty International with information Ageared exclusively to placing blame on the Caldera administration.@

The Role of the United States

U.S. Embassy officials in Venezuela maintained regular contact with Venezuelan human rights organizations, which was reflected in the Venezuela chapter in Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995. The report presented an accurate description of human rights conditions in the country. Human Rights Watch/Americas was unaware, however, of any public statements from the embassy condemning human rights violations when they occurred during 1996.

The State Department=s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) bureau disbursed $500,000 to Venezuela during 1996, roughly the same as the preceding year. In an effort to assist Venezuela in the process of reforming its Code of Criminal Procedure, the United States Information Agency (USIA) sponsored training seminars for judges and prosecutors.

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