Minister Dion Visits COPE

Our colleague and Youth LEAP grad Soksai Sengvongkham has excellent things to say about Minister Stéphane Dion's visit to COPE Laos.

Great to see someone trained by our previous Global Affairs Canada funded youth program have the opportunity to show the Minister of Foreign Affairs what Canadian funding can do!


Women, Peace and Security

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development is currently undertaking a study on Women, Peace and Security to help in drafting a new Canadian Action Plan. According to the government, the purpose of this study is to examine "Canada’s role in supporting the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security (132518201888188919602106, 2122 and 2242). Together, these resolutions necessitate the protection of women’s rights and women’s meaningful involvement in all efforts to prevent, resolve and recover from armed conflict."

Mines Action Canada strongly supports this work and submitted written testimony to the Committee based on our experience in humanitarian disarmament.  You can read our submission here


Working Paper on Victim Assistance and Nuclear Weapons

This year the United Nations is holding an Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament. Mines Action Canada capitalized on our experience with the Ottawa Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions to submit a working paper to the OEWG on the need to include victim assistance in a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The working paper is available online here.


They are doctors, nurses and medics not soldiers or targets

Last week saw global outrage over the bombing of two hospitals in Aleppo, Syria. Coming soon after the bombing of a civil defense centre, the destruction of al-Quds hospital and Al Marjeh Primary Health Care Centre within days of each other made headlines around the world. Sadly, these horrific and illegal bombings were not isolated incidents.

Over the last few years, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan and too many other countries, have seen attacks on health care facilities. Although health care facilities and medical personnel are protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), making such attacks war crimes, 2015 witnessed an alarming increase in these illegal tactics. To be clear, these are not mistakes or accidental collateral damage but targeted attacks on those providing life-saving medical care in the midst of conflict. As a result, there has also been a rise in the number of unmarked ambulances and covert field hospitals established in conflict zones.  These field hospitals have even become the main source of health care in opposition controlled Syria.

With hospitals, ambulances and medical facilities under attack or destroyed, thousands of civilians are being denied a fundamental human right guaranteed by the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to health.  This unacceptable war tactic is exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises around the world. The ongoing situation not only undermines the credibility of the international community, but also highlights one of the most damaging long term impacts of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.  

The unseen impacts of attacks on health care facilities

Attacks against medical facilities impede access to health care and have disastrous impacts on long term health. Beyond the obvious death and injury caused by attacks on health care systems and the lack of emergency treatment for those injured in the conflict, targeting health care has wide-spread humanitarian impacts. The already overwhelmed health care systems of states in conflict are often unable to cope with the influx of patients caused by the destruction of medical facilities.  “Targeting the health system has compounded the crisis, caused many medical personnel to flee, and prevented countless civilians from getting treated’’ said Widney Brown, Physicians for Human Rights’s director of programs.  In addition to war-injured persons, thousands of people are dying of preventable causes because they unable to access proper health care across conflict zones.

Targeting medical facilities has also impeded vaccination campaigns. The outbreak of polio in Syria and Iraq which started in October 2013 was called “the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication.” Before this outbreak, polio was last reported in Syria in 1999 and in Iraq in 2000.  Unusually large outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever were reported in Yemen by the WHO in 2015. Additionally, fighting forced the postponement of a polio and measles vaccination campaign endangering the lives of millions of children in Yemen. 

Case studies


Attacks on medical facilities and health care providers have been a feature of the conflict in Syria. A report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) identified that between March 2011 and December 2015, 346 attacks were conducted on 246 Syrian medical facilities, killing 705 medical personnel. Syrian government and Russian forces were found responsible for 315 attacks according to the NGO.  Hospitals were specifically targeted on at least 211 occasions. 

The scale of attacks on medical care in Syria is overwhelming, we will just look at attacks on hospitals in Aleppo, both the city and governorate. The city of Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city, saw its health care facilities attacked 45 times in the three years prior to October 2015. As a consequence of these attacks, less than a third of its hospitals were functioning in late 2015, and the ratio of doctors to residents is eight times less than before the conflict started, denying access to much needed medical services. “The Syrian government is using attacks on Aleppo’s health care system as a weapon of war” said Dr. Michele Heisler, of PHR.

A late January 2016 Russian air attack destroyed the last major hospital, the Andan Charitable Hospital, in northern Aleppo. The hospital was providing advanced medical services, including surgery, to residents of the Aleppo countryside. Residents are now forced to travel 50 km to clinics along the Turkish border to receive health care. The hospital was directly targeted by Russian airstrikes. A doctor and a 10 year old patient were killed, and 24 others were injured as a result of the attack.

The result of these attacks is most evident in a media story from 1 May 2016:

Amr al-Halaby, 32, said his teenage daughter, whose leg was severed by a government barrel bomb, had only been able to receive limited treatment from a local vet in the family’s home. “Her painkillers have run out and there is nowhere for us to take her,” said Mr Halaby. “She has reached hell and we can only watch her sink deeper.”


The already fragile health care system in Yemen is coming under severe strain since the conflict erupted in March 2015. The WHO has estimated that almost a quarter of Yemen’s medical facilities are no longer operational due to the violence. “The health system is on the brink of collapse” declared Dr Ahmed Shadoul, WHO Representative for Yemen.  The situation is so dire that the president of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, said that “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years", warning the international community of the growing humanitarian catastrophe as medical facilities continue to be targeted. Two ICRC staff were killed by gunmen in September 2015 and the organization’s office was raided by gunmen in a separate incident.

A UNICEF report stated that at least 63 health facilities have been attacked since the start of fighting in March 2015 and almost 600 facilities have ceased operations due to damage or lack of supplies, electricity and staff. The report goes on to estimate that “nearly 10,000 children under the age of five may have died in the past year from preventable diseases as a result of the decline in key health services such as immunization against vaccine preventable diseases and the treatment of diarrhoea and pneumonia.”


An attack on a medical facility in Afghanistan in October 2015, brought the issue of attacks on health care to the general public’s attention. The MSF hospital in Kunduz province, the only trauma centre in northern Afghanistan, was repeatedly attacked and eventually destroyed by U.S airstrikes, killing 42, including 14 staff and 24 patients and 4 caretakers.  Now, residents in the Kunduz province have to either go to expensive private clinics, or attempt the long and dangerous journey to Kabul or Pakistan to receive treatment. On 29 April 2016, the United States Department of Defence released their long, jargon filled and partially redacted report on the incident and said the incident was not a war crime.

The hospital in Kunduz has not yet reopened.



In December 2011, during the 31st International Conference of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the international community adopted a resolution mandating the ICRC to initiate consultations with subject matter experts to formulate practical recommendations for improving safe access to health care services.  The “Health Care in Danger” project was created to achieve this objective.  The ICRC published its first recommendations in 2013. 

In conjunction with those 2013 recommendations, the United Nation (UN) adopted four resolutions for the protection of health care services during armed conflict in December 2014.  This reinforced the principles in four Geneva Conventions and two additional Protocols already providing for the protection of health care facilities. These resolutions asserted to warring parties that attacks against medical facilities constitute a war crime. 

However, governments and rebel groups appear to be ignoring the warnings of the international community, as more and more hospitals and medical clinics become the targets of attacks.

Civil society has not been silent in the face of these unacceptable and illegal attacks. MSF launched a social media campaign to raise 

awareness on the fact that its hospitals have been bombed every week in 2015 and 2016 in Syria and have been targeted countless times worldwide. The #NotATarget campaign demands that medical facilities stop being treated as military targets in conflict zones.  The longer these attacks are tolerated by the international community, the more likely they will become a new norm in armed conflicts. The usually reserved ICRC is speaking out more on this issue, most recently in collaboration with MSF, and the ICRC President Peter Maurer has been uncharacteristically blunt.

In our humanitarian disarmament work, we advocate strongly for effective assistance to victims of landmines, cluster munitions, explosive remnants of war and explosive weapons used in populated areas. The targeting of health care facilities and medical personnel prevents victims from getting the emergency and long term care they need.  

The international community has a chance this month to reverse course and reaffirm international prohibitions on attacking medical facilities.  Tomorrow, 3 May 2016, the United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution designed to stop future attacks against hospitals, patients and civilians in war zones. Update: We're pleased to see that Canada will be co-sponsoring this resolution. Later this month, states will gather in Turkey for the World Humanitarian Summit where they will make core commitments in regards to humanitarian issues. One of the High-Level Leaders’ Roundtables is on “Upholding the norms that safeguard humanity” where states will have the opportunity to speak out on the targeting of civilian objects like medical facilities. In both these discussions, states have the responsibility to speak out against the targeting of medical facilities and personnel and to take action to protect those who risk everything to save lives in conflict. 

Jean-Philippe Lambert Ste Marie is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa and a Mines Action Canada research assistant and Erin Hunt is the Program Coordinator at Mines Action Canada.



Disarmament isn't always dark: My experience at Mines Action Canada

I have been working with Mines Action Canada since January and today is already my last day as an intern here. My study abroad year has come to an end and next week I leave Canada and from September I will be finishing my undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Leeds.

As an intern at Mines Action Canada I learned a lot about a field that previously I was not very familiar with. While the focus area of Mines Action Canada may not seem very uplifting with its focus on explosive weapons and landmines, I was happy to discover that while there is still a lot of work to be done, it is important to remember that so much progress has already been made.

Unfortunately it is human nature to focus more so on the negative than the positive, but having worked here I have realised that there is much to be celebrated in regard to disarmament and the use of explosive weaponry. For example, more and more countries are joining the landmine treaty, countries are co-operating in order to stop the future use of autonomous weapons or “killer robots” and an ever increasing number of countries are finally being deemed as “mine-free” after decades of conflict left them as extremely dangerous places to live.

Working here also taught me how rewarding it is to be involved in humanitarian work, even in the small way that I became involved. I think many people become disillusioned when they read about such huge issues as landmine contamination or the use of improvised explosive devices; however working with Mines Action Canada has shown me that there is a multitude of ways that anyone can become involved and try to make a difference.

I have not made firm plans as to what I would like to do post-graduation, but working at Mines Action Canada has definitely opened my eyes to the world of humanitarian work and so this field is definitely something that I would consider.

Claudia Pearson is an undergraduate student from the University of Leeds studying abroad at the University of Ottawa. 


International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action

On December 8th 2005, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 4th the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness on mine action and remind the population of the danger that landmines pose all over the world. It is also an opportunity to highlight all the exceptional work that mine action personnel and advocacy groups do around the world; and to point out that dealing with explosive hazards are only one aspect of mine action work. It is also a moment for the United Nation to reaffirm its partnership with states, non-states actors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) to eradicate all anti-personnel landmines across the globe. This year the ICBL is using the slogan: “Finish the Job 2025” and the United Nations official theme of International Mine Action Day is “Mine action is humanitarian action”. Let’s look at both of those themes.

Finish the Job 2025
In 2014, capitalizing on the momentum provided by the Third Review Conference of the Ottawa Treaty in Maputo, the ICBL challenged the international community to fulfill the promises of the Treaty and to realize a mine free world by 2025. The states present at the Review Conference adopted the Maputo Declaration which set the same goal.

The Ottawa Treaty or as it is often called, the Mine Ban Treaty, was signed in Ottawa in 1997 and entered into law in 1999. It is one of the world's most endorsed treaties. Over 80% of world's countries have committed to it. This universalization of the treaty helps reinforce the stigma now associated with the use of landmines; and this tactic is obviously working. To see the success in action we looked at Landmine Monitor 2005 which identified 6,521 new landmine/UXO casualties in calendar year 2004. The Landmine Monitor 2015 identified 3,678 new casualties in calendar year 2014, the second lowest number of casualties since 1999. The drop in casualties alone between 2005 and 2015 is worth celebrating but there are more successes that show it is possible to Finish the Job by 2025.

In the year the Ottawa Treaty became binding international law, there were 45 states parties. Fifteen years later, we have 162 states parties and Sri Lanka has announced they will soon be #163.

Finish the Job 2025 calls for complete worldwide mine clearance by 2025. An ambitious objective, even by NGO standards, but the ICBL strongly believe that with political determination and commitment from the mine ban community, the States Parties of the Mine Ban Treaty are more than capable of fulfilling their obligations within the next decade. As you noted above, the Ottawa Treaty has made excellent progress over the past ten years and we hope to see similar progress over the next ten. The International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action provides an excellent opportunity for the international community to stress to decisions makers the important of fulfilling that objective. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared: "Eliminating the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war is a crucially important endeavour that advances peace, enables development, supports nations in transition and saves lives.”

Mine action is humanitarian action
Mine action is not only about the danger of dealing with explosives, more importantly it is about providing hope and a chance at a better life to thousands of civilians. As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed:
“...mine action programmes make an invaluable contribution to post-conflict recovery, humanitarian relief efforts, peace operations and development initiatives. They prevent landmines and other explosive ordnance from causing further indiscriminate harm long after conflicts have ended, and help to transform danger zones into productive land. Mine action sets communities on course toward lasting stability.”

Contamination by landmines and explosive remnants of war prevent civilians from accessing basic necessities such as drinking water. Contaminated lands and farms cripple development of agriculture exacerbating poverty. Thanks to landmine clearance and the hard work of mine action personnel, now communities in the Battambang province in Cambodia can grow produce on their farms and sell them to local markets; while the city of Bentiu in South Sudan now have access to safe drinking water since the local borehole has been cleared of explosive remnants of war.

Mine action also plays a crucial role in relief efforts. For example, in 2014, the World Food Program initiated a project to build a road in South Sudan so that humanitarian assistance could be delivered by road to villages affected by the ongoing conflict. It is estimated that approximately 2.5 millions of South Sudanese were in need of food assistance at that time. However, during the first few days of the project, a bulldozer hit a anti-tank mine. The project had to be suspended while the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) cleared the area of remaining explosive hazards. The team cleared close to 27,000 km of road, allowing vital humanitarian assistance to reach those in need; saving countless lives.

The work that mine action staff do has a concrete and direct impact on the lives of millions of civilians affected by conflict. Every day, countless lives are saved and changed for the better by mine action whether is clearance of land, risk education, assistance to victims or advocacy. One can only hope that in the near future the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action be a day of remembrance of what used to be.

Jean-Philippe Lambert Ste Marie is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa and a Mines Action Canada research assistant.


Mine Action is Humanitarian Action

Next Tuesday, April 4th, is the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, as declared by the UN General Assembly in December 2005.

The theme chosen this year is “Mine action is humanitarian action.”

Significant progress has been made since this day was first established, with multiple organisations and governments showing an increased effort to deal with this problem quickly and efficiently.

In fact, today, 162 states are now party to the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines and in 2014 international support for mine action reached $416.8 million (US).

However, while this is a considerable achievement, there remains a significant amount of work to be done. Every day an estimated 10 people are killed or injured by landmines or explosive remnants of war.

Further, there remain 35 countries outside of the Ottawa Teaty and 60 states and areas which are still contaminated by landmines or explosive remnants of war. This means that in 60 areas around the world parents are frightened to send their children to school, people put themselves at risk daily simply by leaving their homes and many people struggle to rebuild their lives after surviving a landmine incident. Just yesterday, three Syrian boys were killed by a landmine they thought was a toy. 

In light of this, the issue of landmine and explosive weapons contamination must be addressed through a humanitarian lens, because it is individual people who must face the very real danger of having their lives, or the life of a family member cut tragically short as a result of wars and conflict that they themselves had nothing to do with. With April 4th fast approaching, we have another opportunity to recommit ourselves to ending the suffering caused by landmines and to remind the international community that mine action is humanitarian action.

Claudia Pearson is an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds currently on exchange at the University of Ottawa.


Sri Lanka Decides to Ban Landmines

On 3 March 2016, the Sri Lankan government finally approved accession to the Ottawa Treaty, which bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. Sri Lanka will soon be the 163rd state party to the Mine Ban Treaty, as it is also known.  

Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva stated, “We decided to sign the Ottawa Convention because we have no intention of going to war again.

Sri Lanka’s ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty is a significant step that should greatly accelerate the process of mine clearance. Now, neither the government, nor any non-state actors, can exacerbate the problem any further.

Ambassador Aryasinha, the Sri Lankan representative to the United Nations speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on March 2, announced that the government wishes Sri Lanka to be a mine free country by the year 2020, and that a strategic plan is currently in the making to achieve this goal.

The Extent of Contamination in Sri Lanka

Three decades of armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers left behind extensive mine and ERW contamination. The conflict came to an end in 2009, by which time it is estimated that approximately 300,000 people had been displaced.

Following the war, almost 2,064 acres of land had been contaminated and were in urgent need of clearance before displaced persons could return to their homes.

While the government decided only days ago to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty, work has been underway for some time to combat the issue of contamination. For example, in July 2010, a National Mine Action Centre was created. It has become the government's lead agency in national demining efforts. 

Furthermore, it was reported that in 2014, a number of NGOs conducted demining activities in Sri Lanka. This included a Sri Lankan non-profit, Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH), as well as two international NGOs – the Halo Trust, and Mines Advisory Group (MAG).

The work of these various organisations has had a significant impact, and as of December 2015, 2,000 acres of land had been cleared.

With the combination of the Sri Lankan government’s acceptance of the Mine Ban Treaty, and the significant progress that has already been made in terms of clearance, it seems extremely likely that by 2020, Sri Lanka will achieve its goal of being a mine free country.

Mines Action Canada welcomes this decision by the Sri Lankan government and thanks our colleagues in the Sri Lankan Campaign to Ban Landmines for their years of hard work to make this a reality.

This post is the first in a series by MAC student interns.

Claudia Pearson is an undergraduate student at University of Leeds currently on exchange in Ottawa.



Canada Recommits to a Mine-Free World while Sri Lanka approves accession to Ottawa Treaty

Mines Action Canada welcomes today’s statement by the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs that recommitted Canada to achieving a mine-free world by 2025 and expressed support for the universalization of the treaty banning landmines.  Minister Dion called on states to summon the same courage that landmine survivors demonstrate daily in order to achieve the goal of a world without landmines by 2025. Minister Dion made the statement in Geneva at the First International Pledging Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. Commonly known as the Ottawa Treaty it bans the use, transfer, production and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines.

“More than 80% of the world’s states belong to the Ottawa Treaty and more than 49 million mines have been destroyed by landmines because of the treaty” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director of Mines Action Canada. “This life-saving treaty is working, but much work remains. We are pleased to see the Government engaged again at such a high level. Canada’s leadership is very important”

The Pledging Conference was organized by Chile which currently holds the Presidency of the treaty. Minister Dion appeared on a high-level panel with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross; the Foreign Ministers of Chile and Colombia; as well as, Ms. Tammy Hall, a Canadian who is Head of Demining of the Danish Demining Group and Mr. Firoz Alizada, Campaigns and Communications Manager of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

This statement comes one day after the 17th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty becoming international law. Over the past 17 years, the Ottawa Treaty has resulted in a dramatic drop in number of new casualties, nearly 30 affected countries have become free from the scourge of landmines, and the stigma on landmines continues to hold strong. With this statement, Minister Dion reaffirms Canada’s dedication and leadership in implementing the steps necessary to realize a mine-free world by 2025.

The Minister’s statement was not the only big news of the Pledging Conference.  The Sri Lankan Ambassador announced that Sri Lanka’s cabinet approved accession to the Ottawa Treaty this morning meaning that Sri Lanka will be to acceding to the treaty before the end of the year. With this exciting announcement, Sri Lanka will soon be the 163rd State Party to the Ottawa Treaty.

“Mines Action Canada looks forward to welcoming Sri Lanka to the Mine Ban Treaty.  As a mine-affected country, Sri Lanka knows all too well the humanitarian harm caused by these horrific weapons,” said Erin Hunt, Program Coordinator.  “Sri Lanka’s announcement is another step towards a mine-free world and should serve as a call to neighbouring states that it is time to ban landmines.” 

The Pledging Conference also saw strong statements and funding announcements by Australia, Cambodia, Finland, Jordan, Thailand, and more than 25 other states. Mines Action Canada looks forward to working with the Government of Canada and partners around the world in achieving a world without landmines.



Others' refusal no reason not to ban nukes

For Canadians working on nuclear disarmament, the CBC headline “Anti-nuclear weapon effort to be spearheaded by Canada's UN ambassador” appeared to give a reason to be hopeful. 

We’re at a crucial moment in the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons. Civil society is calling for a treaty banning nuclear weapons and many states agree. Over 120 states have pledged to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” This year the international diplomatic community is starting a new Open-Ended Working Group at the United Nations “to substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that would need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.” The Open-Ended Working Group is an opportunity for states to start talking about a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately any hope provided by the headline quickly evaporated when the reader realized that the anti-nuclear weapon effort discussed was not one of these exciting developments towards a ban on nuclear weapons. In fact, the article goes on to say:

“Another memo to Trudeau stresses that Canada views progress to a total ban on nuclear weapons — the yet unattainable Nuclear Weapons Convention — to be "not politically feasible" because some of the states that have those weapons refuse to negotiate.”

Not only is this sentence disappointing, it is also untrue and the Canadian government should know that better than anyone. To say that a ban on nuclear weapons is “not politically feasible” because some possessor states won’t negotiate overlooks our own history.  Twenty years ago, Canada led an international process to ban an indiscriminate weapon despite the fact that some of the states that had those weapons refused to negotiate. That weapon was anti-personnel landmine and the Ottawa Treaty has resulted in huge declines in annual casualties, tens of millions of stockpiled landmines being destroyed and in entire countries being cleared of these lethal barriers to development. We, at Mines Action Canada, constantly see the impact of this treaty even though a few states that have landmines remain outside it.  

Foreign Minister Axworthy signs the Ottawa Treaty in 1997

Since the treaty was signed in Ottawa, states that originally refused to participate have joined and the norm against landmines has grown stronger. The vast majority of states that still remain outside the treaty abide by the norm created and the spirit of the Ottawa Treaty.  With enough states participating, the norm created by a ban treaty becomes hard to ignore and the norm against landmines started with fewer states than have currently pledged to close the legal gap for the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

Banning nuclear weapons may actually be more politically feasible than a ban on landmines was twenty years ago because the elimination of nuclear weapons is a widely accepted international goal unlike the elimination of landmines at the time and only nine states have nuclear weapons whereas at the time of the Ottawa Treaty negotiations almost all militaries had landmines in their arsenals. The majority of the world is ready to take the next step towards nuclear disarmament, why won’t Canada join them?

Canada needs to learn from its own landmine experience and take on a leadership role in banning nuclear weapons with whoever will negotiate. With nuclear armed states modernizing their arsenals rather than moving towards disarmament, it is time for responsible states to lead the way. We have done it once, it’s time to do it again


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