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the way Jude Conway Jessie Street National Women’s Library Lunch Hour Talk - Sydney 16 August 2012 Oh Timor, a country close to my heart. A tiny nation of one million people who defeated the mighty Indonesia - 220 million people and for many years a rapidly expanding economy under President Suharto favoured by western nations with dollars in their eyes. How did tiny Timor-Leste manage to achieve their dream of independence? Many factors of course but the bedrock was the Timorese women and men of bravery and steely determination with the gift of telling their stories about the violations of the Indonesian occupation, and their belief in magic. In this talk I will be reading extracts from Step by Step: Women of East Timor, Stories of Resistance and Survival. Cesarina Rocha: “My story starts in 1975 in Portuguese East Timor. At this time East Timor in its innocence knew nothing of the ravages soon to be inflicted. It was a sleepy little colonial island, with whitewashed buildings, and drinkable water from every tap, that everyone back then took for granted.” Dulce Vitor - Baucau 1975: “When the Indonesians invaded, my father made a plan to run to the jungle, so carrying sleeping mats, clothes and corn powder, we left Baucau. I was fourteen and my brothers were twelve, ten and nine. We thought it was only our family and a few others, but the majority of the population fled to the mountains. Soon we didn’t have anything to eat, we had to search for food everywhere. We trekked up and down mountains and crossed rivers looking for wild beans… In 1978 we were still in the jungle. My father got sick but there was no medicine to make him better. The situation did not permit getting any - there was fighting, the area was not calm, we had to keep moving. As my father was dying he said to me ‘Many people will die, it is not only me that will die. You mustn’t be sad. Keep resisting strongly, eat tree roots, eat wild taro. If you have to, go back to your village so you can live and get selfdetermination.” For me it all started back in 1991. I had read what is still my favourite book, Tracks by Robyn Davidson about her camel ride from Alice Springs to the WA coast.1 After years of being a sole parent in my hometown of Newcastle, I had itchy feet and would get out a map and dream of escaping to Alice Springs. When my son was nearly 22 so old enough to be independent, I took leave from my job, packed my Toyota Corolla station wagon and left him home alone. This was winter 1991. It was an auspicious time to be travelling north. Most nights on my three-week trip I saw the spectacle of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, and for a
Jessie Street library has 2 copies.
2 while the crescent moon, all setting brightly in the red glow of the sunset. Magic. I reached Darwin, it was warm, casual and friendly. I liked it and stayed.2 I was there on 12 November 1991 when news came through about the Dili Massacre or in Timor it is better known as the Santa Cruz massacre or just 12 November. I was working at the NT3 Environment Centre and had met a lot of activists and was invited to a protest rally in the city. There were a few thousand Timorese living in Darwin most of whom had managed to escape 1975 after the abrupt abandonment by the coloniser Portugal and before the invasion by Indonesia in December. Consequently the Darwin rally was very moving as we knew hundreds of young people had been machine-gunned by the Indonesian military but people could not get through to their relatives to find out who was safe. The rally MC asked for 120 people to lay on the road to represent the numbers we thought killed and I volunteered. While on my back staring up into the sky a Timorese woman sang a plaintive funeral dirge and her voice touched my heart. That day was my first experience with the emotional power of the Timorese people. Another reason that Darwin was an important city in the international fight for Timorese self-determination was its proximity to Timor-Leste and the presence of a large Indonesian consulate. On the day of that rally we marched to the consulate and the Timorese began a 3-week 24-hour-a-day protest right in front. Supporters stopping by regularly, including myself, set up Australians For a Free East Timor, a rag-tag but highly motivated group. Cesarina Rocha was a fellow member of Australians for a Free East Timor in Darwin. She had been taken to Darwin from East Timor with her mother in 1975 when she was three months old during the ‘civil war’. Her father had been imprisoned for not being Fretilin, but persuaded the guard, who he knew, to let him go home and have a shower, then tried to escape by swimming to Atauro island, 20 km away and with strong rips. Very luckily for him he was rescued by a Darwin barge. Ces grew up in a determinedly non-political family but after seeing John Pilger’s film Death of a Nation at NT University in 1995, she joined our group and became a quietly determined activist as well as representing Timorese youth in Australia, Korea and Portugal. Although Timor-Leste is only a one-hour flight from Darwin, closer than my hometown, I didn’t go on my first trip until November 1995. Why? Because I was afraid. A number of my fellow activists had been deported and I was hearing upsetting stories about the Indonesian militaries atrocities – not unlike what is still going on in West Papua today. My friend and I flew to Kupang but were told that foreigners were not allowed to enter ‘Tim-Tim’4 for their own safety. It seems there had been a demonstration in Dili on the anniversary of the massacre and Timorese youth had thrown stones at the soldiers. I thought the military don’t want anyone seeing them be violent to the Timorese. After ten days of waiting around (in a tropical paradise on Semua island I might add) we decided to catch a bus and give it a go. My young good looking friend sweet-talked the soldiers at every checkpoint and we managed to get across the border and be the first foreigners let back in.
I decided Alice Springs would be too cold for me. Northern Territory. 4 The Indonesians called the country Timor Timur or Tim-Tim.
3 Timor-Leste is a mountainous country and the roads are narrow, winding with blind corners and perched on the edge of steep cliffs. (The roads proved more lethal for Australian soldiers than militia.) The bus window gave me a great view of the ocean lapping the rocks below. I was so relieved to make it to Dili at dusk. There we saw the ubiquitous Indonesian military driving through the streets in open trucks holding up their rifles, and no locals out after dark. On arrival at the Vila Harmonia losmen our details were taken for the Indonesian Intelligence. Unlike other provinces of Indonesia the local people weren’t keen to talk to us. One young man quickly asked where I was staying and later sent me a letter to take back to Australia – the youth calling for independence. At the back of our losmen (run by proindependence people) I met with a resistance leader (David Ximenes) to give him money and medicines in a shed surrounded by guards and a guard dog as he was hiding from the Indonesian police at the time. I left visiting the Santa Cruz cemetery till my second last day because I knew it would cause trouble and before I got back to my losmen the Intelligence had phoned them asking was I a journalist. There were spies everywhere. It was frightening. One of our activist group moved back to Sydney in 1996 and asked me to run his Darwin house as an AFFET headquarters. Meetings were held, actions planned, t-shirts screenprinted, freelance journalists and activists stayed on their way to and from Dili, and we had some great parties. In 1997 I was invited to be the office manager at the East Timor International Support Center, ETISC, set up with funds from Europe by Darwin Timorese Céu Lopes and her nonTimorese husband Juan Federer who provided admin support to José Ramos-Horta on some of his international lobbying trips. As the NT government strongly supported Indonesia ETISC did not advertise itself and our office was located above a pizza parlour in one of Darwin’s suburbs. When ETISC tried to get a development NGO ‘Timor Aid’ incorporated, the NT government just ignored the paperwork. It had to be incorporated in Melbourne. Besides doing office work I was also project officer travelling to East and West Timor, Bali, Java and Thailand In September 1997 I was meeting with a Timorese man (Avelino Coelho) in Bali to collect information about guerrilla activity in Timor but he had to leave abruptly on hearing that a bomb had exploded5 at the secret headquarters of his group in Java. He sought asylum in the Austrian embassy in Jakarta and stayed there until after the referendum in August 1999. (Avelino was Secretary of State for Energy Policy in the last government.) In 1998, alone, I nervously carried photos of military torture in Timor hidden in my pants from Bangkok to Jakarta so they could be distributed to activists groups to prove the human rights violations which Indonesian denied. (ETISC had smuggled them photos out of Timor.) My companion had to enter Indonesia by boat from Singapore to Sumatra because he was on the black list.6
The newly made bomb had been stored behind the refrigerator, overheated and exploded. No one was badly injured. 6 My Jakarta contact could not meet me because the airport was too far from where he lived, but told me to catch a Bluebird taxi into the city. I made it through Customs with no trouble but the only vehicle with a Bluebird insignia was an un-taxi-like van with a man and boy sitting in the front. Still paranoid I got in. Every
4 I helped organise the escape of a Timorese man to the Portuguese embassy in Bangkok via Jakarta,7 after he had secretly passed Indonesian military staff figures to the ETISC information officer which sensationally showed the Indonesians were lying about how many troops they had in East Timor.8
In June 1998, ETISC brought 6 Timorese activists to Darwin, all selected by Xanana Gusmão from his prison cell in Jakarta. It had taken us 6 months of cutting through Australian and Indonesian government red tape, Examples – the Australian embassy in Jakarta would not allow any Timorese to go inside, so the Timorese student organising the visas had to conduct all negotiations on the footpath. An official told me they were afraid Timorese might ask for asylum if they went inside. (Other embassies in Jakarta did not feel the need for this prohibition.) A second example was the Australian requirement of a medical by a short list of doctors, none of whom were in East Timor at the time. The Indonesian tape cutting was much easier, it just involved paying bribes. The group who managed to get over to Darwin included only one young woman, the charismatic Laura Abrantes, at the time working with Caritas Dili. Laura loved to sing – especially nationalist songs that could be only sung outside of Indonesian earshot. She was able to imaginatively use her limited English to passionately evoke the emotion of the brutality of the Indonesian occupation and affect all who heard her. We took the group to the Jabiluka anti-uranium camp in Kakadu and Laura especially drew some of those intrepid activists into the Timor cause. I was realising that the voice of Timorese women, who were integral to the resistance, was rarely heard in Australia. Most people knew about José Ramos-Horta and Xanana Gusmão and maybe Bishop Belo but, even now, the most well-known woman from East Timor would be Xanana’s Australian wife, Kirsty Sword Gusmão. The Timorese women I met, like Laura Abrantes and Céu Lopes were passionate, effective campaigners so feminist-minded me thought that they should be better known in the English-speaking world. I decided to collect women’s life stories to publish as a campaign tool. I started by interviewing my gregarious work-mate Céu. She did not go to protests in Darwin but liaised with Xanana and resistance leaders in Timor finding out what they needed to keep strong, and informing them about what was happening ‘outside’ with
time we turned off a road, I was sure that I was being abducted. I did not relax until they dropped me at my hotel after the long drive. 7 In Dili I gave money for the Timorese man, Manuel dos Martires, to get a false passport and travel to Jakarta; then I arranged with Chalida from Forum Asia in Bangkok for him to be able to enter the Portuguese embassy there and receive asylum. (There was no Portuguese embassy in Jakarta at the time). Then I met him in Jakarta to give him an airline ticket to Bangkok. The plan succeeded and he made it safely to Portugal. I met up with him again in Dili in May 2002 at a Segrada Familia party. He was living in England (he could work anywhere in the EU), working at a chicken farm making lots more money than he could in Timor-Leste and sending money back to his family. He had just come for a visit for the independence celebration. [José Belo has told me that Manuel returned to Dili in 2010 and now runs a small shop in Colmera.] 8 The Indonesian military would invite large numbers of media to watch hundreds of troops departing East Timor by ship at the Dili wharf. Later they would bring them back under cover of darkness at other parts of the half-island, for example the wharf at Com.
5 respect to Timor. (Xanana had a phone and laptop in his Cipinang jail cell in Jakarta) I gave Céu an outline of what I wanted and then let her have her head. What she told me, a tiny part of her whole story, was put on the ETISC website and was the genesis of Step by Step. I’ll read a little from Céu Lopes’s story about living on Atauro Island, close to Dili when political prisoners were sent to the island in 1980: “I learnt the tragedy of war. I saw the scars and the signs of torture and rape. We kept hearing story after story about prisoners being burned with cigarette butts, being slashed, being kicked, their fingernails ripped out, electric shocks. A cholera epidemic broke out and there were four or five children a day dying. The doctor said they had to be buried quickly in one grave. The mothers didn’t want to let their babies go and I had to gently prise the bodies from their arms. Oh, the wailing.” Céu only told me about the dead babies years later – in 1998 she was still unable to verbalise it, it was too emotional for her. In March that year I attended the Asia Pacific Coalition for East Timor (APCET) conference in Bangkok. Previous APCET conferences had been stymied by the Indonesian government in both Manila and Kuala Lumpur. This one went ahead after a venue change and the use of false names by the Timorese delegates. Conferences are great networking opportunities, and as well as meeting international activists I met some of the members of Renetil: an underground Timorese student organisation operating in Indonesia. Mica Barreto, a psychology student, was an open and friendly young woman who years later agreed to being one of the storytellers. I asked her about Renetil. “There were three fronts to the East Timorese resistance: the diplomatic front by the Timorese in the diaspora who left the country in ’75; the armed struggle of Falintil; and the clandestine movement of the students and the population in towns. It was very difficult to send out news from East Timor … So Renetil’s function was to liaise between Timor and the outside world. By ’99 Renetil had around three thousand militant members. We prayed and took an oath to honour the struggle for independence and the martyrs who had died, and to continue the struggle. We had to take the oath by drinking ‘blood’ - wine, not real blood - symbolising the blood of our martyrs. It was very serious.” In November 1998 I went to Dili to attend a conference organised by women students from the university. Due to the Asian economic crisis Suharto had been forced to resign in May that year and there was a new feeling of optimism – known as Reformasi. Although it was still dangerous, for the first time in Timor, women spoke publicly at the conference about their horrendous experiences at the hands of the military. One woman described how she had been forced at gunpoint to watch her daughter raped. All they wanted now was Independence. A fellow Darwin activist was at the conference and she was inspired to collect accounts of abuse which were published in May 1999 in Buibere: Voice of East Timorese Women. I contributed to the book under a pseudonym. When I would tell people I was compiling Step by Step they would say – hasn’t there already been a book of women’s stories as though there can only be one book! Step by Step, is quite
6 different. It has life stories of 13 outspoken strong women, which describe their daily life and beliefs, as well as the stresses and horrors of the occupation and the aftermath of the referendum. While I was in Dili in 1998 I started recording Laura’s story and she also arranged for Domingas Alves, or Micato, the founder of the women’s NGO, Fokupers, to tell me her story, which she did – non-stop for 3 hours in Portuguese! It wasn’t till I read the translation that I knew what she’d said! Like thousands of Timorese Micato fled to the mountains after the invasion: “I was nominated secretary of the women’s organisation, OPMT, without any experience. I made my first speech when I was sixteen years old, in front of a mass of people… We had a great party. We sang Timorese songs, popular dances and revolutionary songs. It’s ironic but I miss those days. … I loved to work and we continued to develop OPMT. In each village of around eighty families, we set up rosters. We had three warehouses: regional; village; and base. The produce of our work, particularly agricultural produce, was equally distributed to everyone. We provided for Falintil, ourselves and everyone, particularly children and the sick. We organised old women to produce homemade baskets and bags. There were groups in charge of getting fresh milk to the children. We formed crèches so women could work in the fields. We used traditional medicine to care for injuries and fever and we had a supply of conventional medicines. OPMT could act as celebrant when couples were married. Lacking in resources we taught women to write in the soil.” Because of her brilliant organising skills Micato was the Minister for Social Solidarity in the last government and was appointed the Minister for Defence and Security in this new government – a very interesting appointment for a patriarchal country. But it wasn’t to be Timor is still patriarchal – Micato was robbed of this position when the new president, former brigadier-general of the army, Taur Matan Ruak, decided he didn’t want a woman in the job. Micato refused to take back her previous ministry as Isabel Guterres had already been chosen, so Micato was left with nothing. Very disappointing, and what a waste of her capabilities. President Habibie announced in January 1999 that the Timorese people could have a referendum to choose between Indonesia and independence. How did this happen? Internationally Indonesia was getting a very bad name over Timor as more and more stories of violations came out. Kofi Annan was head of the UN and he and José Ramos-Horta knew each other from years before when their girlfriends had shared a flat in New York. Bill Clinton was president of the US. Céu Lopes’s view is that Habibie was an engineer who may have thought – let’s solve this problem. The referendum was set for August 1999. My life became totally involved in the struggle, I’ll say 24 hours a day because I was probably dreaming about Timor as well. I compiled Indonesia’s Death Squads: Getting Away with Murder about the continuing militia atrocities which ETISC published in May 1999 and we sent a copy to all the embassies. We also published Buibere in this period. We held workshops for people wanting to go to Timor for the Referendum.
7 I went over myself for six weeks leading up to the referendum 30 August 1999. This talk is well-timed because it is close to the anniversary. Our driver was a member of Renetil – most of the Timorese students studying in Indonesia had come back over to help with voter education. One day our driver took us to the wharf because a student, Gaspar Sequeira, had been drowned when going to Atauro Island as part of an education team. We met the fishing boat returning with his body and the next day went with our driver to the young man’s village overlooking a guerrilla stronghold – Mt Matebian – it means Souls of the Dead. It was a sad time to meet Gaspar’s sister Beba Sequeira but we began a connection that is still strong today. Beba Sequeira’s whole family were in the clandestine movement, her mother and father by sending bullets, food and clothes to the guerrillas. This led to her mother and father and siblings being jailed at various times and Beba being interrogated by the Indonesian military while a chair was ground into her foot. Beba also recalls 12 November 1991: “At 9am I heard gunshots. I looked outside and the streets were full of soldiers. A few hours later [my boyfriend] Abilio returned in a blood stained t-shirt. He told me that many people had been killed at the Santa Cruz cemetery. He was okay, but [our friend] Tomás disappeared and we still don’t know where his body is. My cousin came to tell me that my brother Mario had been arrested by the military. We went and looked around the cemetery and saw clothes, shoes and watches, strewn all over the place. There was blood everywhere. The soldiers had tried to hose the blood away, but it still wasn’t clean. I was very worried…” Because Timor-Leste has a high illiteracy rate, the ballot paper for the 1999 referendum comprised two images representing the choice between independence or staying with Indonesia. The Indonesians would not allow the Timorese to use the well-known Fretilin flag so they used the blue and white striped Falintil flag, while the Indonesians had the gall to include the Timorese sacred house in their image. The Renetil students were worried that the choice was not clear and had sample ballot papers printed. We decided to travel across the island to Suai – the town which had the most trouble with militia - so we could be part of the international observers’ contingent and help preclude any violence on voting day. The students asked us to take the sample papers to help distribute them – they were viewed by the Indonesian military as ‘political’ so dangerous to carry. Our Timorese driver declined to accompany us – the trip was too dangerous for him. On the afternoon of a peaceful voting day we came across an Indonesian police road block outside of Suai. The police happened to notice some left over sample papers on the floor of our car. We were in trouble. I was always glad there had been no Timorese with us– their life would have been in danger. For us it was a Kafkaesque few days of being accompanied back to police headquarters in Dili, moved to the Immigration department, being charged with ‘political activities while on a tourist visa’ then accompanied through twenty militia roadblocks by a large group of Indonesians taking the opportunity to flee the country back to Kupang in West Timor. We had the bizarre experience of being in a cafe there with Indonesian intelligence officers watching the result of the referendum announced on TV on 4 September. I saw the look of shock on their faces at nearly 80% voting for independence. The supposed Intelligence officers had believed their own propaganda that Tim-Tim wanted
8 to stay with them. The top Immigration official in Kupang angrily informed us we were now on the Indonesian black list. For once I kept my thoughts to myself “So what, I don’t have to come back to Indonesia, Timor is independent now.” A young office worker sidled up to me and whispered that he was from Alor – a small island not far from Timor – and he was very happy with the result. Once back in Darwin we heard of the catastrophe happening back in East Timor, the killings and the burnings and the hundreds of thousands of Timorese being forced to West Timor and beyond. I felt guilty for being safe but with all the other International observers who had been flown out to Darwin threw ourselves in to calling for peacekeepers to go in. Laura Abrantes: For the announcement of the result on 4th September, I was in Fokupers with friends … Everybody was crying and laughing, ‘We are free, we are free.’ I wasn’t happy. My mind told me something would happen that would be very, very bad. … During the day we listened to the sounds of guns in areas of Dili and in Santa Cruz. Everybody was quiet, no sounds, only of guns, and cars going very fast. … About 5pm we got in the black Rocky car to go home. We put up the big antenna so they would think it was an Intelligence car. We saw tyres burning, black fumes, houses destroyed. There were no voices. At night there were sounds of shooting and bullets … When the militia or the military opened fire, we went into the garden and hid in the mango trees. We didn’t know where the bullets were coming from. We had flowers around us so I hid my feet inside the flowers and lay down. Imagine hiding from bullets behind flowers – not very good protection. Now it’s funny, but at the time, oh my God it was difficult. My sister was crying. I told her to make a cross in the earth, take earth from the middle of the cross and put it on her forehead. That’s what our parents taught us in the invasion. This would protect us because a cross is our belief.” Mica Barreto: On the 1st September I was supposed to leave Timor ... five of us left Dili but a truck full of militia stopped right in front of our car. They asked my relative to show his wallet and they found one of the sample ballot papers that I had brought from Jakarta. They accused him of being pro-independence and forcibly pulled him out from the car. Three militia started beating him till he was bleeding. A militia ran after him with a samurai sword, trying to strike him. ..I got out to help and a militia grabbed my collar and shook me, yelling threateningly ‘Hey woman, who are you?’ I called [my international friends] in the car to come and help. The militia said ‘oh, there are malae in the car’ and knew he had to stop. After I left the country. ..With Renetil colleagues, we moved from one place to another in Jakarta. The places would be identified by Intelligence, so we’d have to move again. Every time we met someone who looked like a militia, the memory of September 1 st suddenly made me feel afraid. …The feeling came unconsciously because that’s the problem you have when you are traumatised.” Domingas ‘Micato’ Alves: I felt the full cycle of suffering return. We had won our independence yet had to run to the hills again. Our house was burnt down and memories of our life as a family were destroyed... After seeing the planes of InterFET fly overhead and land at Dili airport, we screamed with emotion. We knew that the time had finally come. The cycle of suffering had ended. All the loss we suffered and the people that died was the price we paid for independence.”
9 I returned to burnt out Dili in late 1999 and with other activists set up an NGO assisting local NGOs get established in the new Aid and UN environment. I was a workaholic for 2 1/2 years. This NGO was grandly named Asia Pacific Support Collective – APSC - and six vibrant young Timorese women offered to assist our operations. As they gained in skills and confidence they took over the NGO renaming it APSC-Timor-Leste. With a change in members but the same director, it is 12 years old this year. After independence in May 2002 I based myself in Darwin and had time return to the idea of collecting stories. It was no longer needed as a campaign tool – just a book about the impressive Timorese women. But to be able to meet with the women when I was in Timor was always a challenge because all the women were super busy with work commitments, trips overseas, family etc. For example Laura has such a vivid memory that after talking for a couple of hours, and still a long way to go with her story, she would get tired and annoyed with the imposition on her time when NGO Fokupers was being overwhelmed with supporting traumatised women and dealing with a constant stream of visitors. It was only when she took a draft transcript home to check and her family were fascinated with her memories that she became more enthusiastic. I loved working on this book. I got to know all the women well and never tired of going through their stories. I’ll tell you a doubly sad one. Lucia’s Lobato’s Fretilin family ran to the mountains after the invasion and were constantly on the move to find food and hide from the Indonesian soldiers for over 3 years after the invasion. One morning Lucia and one of her brothers were picking food for breakfast when they heard the sound of gunfire close by. They hid behind the trees, soon hearing the sound of a helicopter. Lucia never saw her mother or 5 of her siblings again. Lucia worked and studied hard to become the Minister for Justice in the last government. Unfortunately she was found to be corrupt. The story I heard was that her businessman husband pressured her to give him contracts in the prison system and she relented. Of course you cannot be Minister for Justice in this situation. I feel very sad because I know well what she has already suffered. I returned to live in my hometown of Newcastle in 2006 after my son Shane and his partner Christine had baby Emma, and fortunately a year before my mother died – Newcastle feminist Josie Conway. Back in Timor while organising a women’s conference, Beba Sequeira and Laura Abrantes had banded together to make APSC-TL into one of the prime (though small) feminist organisations in Timor-Leste supporting women veterans with incomegenerating projects, providing scholarships to young women to continue their studies and collecting women’s stories, recently publishing some in Secrecy: The Key to Independence. In 2008 Beba visited me in Newcastle and we were fortunate to meet up with some local women who wanted to support the work APSC-TL was doing, so we set up the Hunter East Timor Sisters – cousins to Blue Mountains East Timor Sisters (BMETS) who were already sponsoring APSC-TL.
10 I was thrilled when APSC-TL were the campaign team for a woman candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, my old friend Céu Lopes, who years before had said in her story in Step by Step that she wanted to run for president after Timor-Leste became independent. Another dream of hers has come true. I’ll finish with the wise words from storyteller Carolina do Rosario about the future of Timor. “We have to think with cool heads about how we can prepare this new nation that belongs to us. We cannot depend on miracles, this has to be a slow process but we’ll get there.” And I haven’t even mentioned the oil and gas yet ….
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