Since I had been introduced to the British peer Lord Michael Naseby in the surrounds of the House of Lords in March 2018, I assumed that he had been born into the aristocratic upper layer of British society. Wrong. It required his book Sri Lanka for me to learn that he was from the upper middle class and had contested parliamentary seats from the late-960s on behalf of the Conservative Party in what were Labour strongholds – with his peerage being of 1990s vintage. As vitally, his early career as a marketing executive had seen him working in Pakistan and Bengal in the early 1960s before he was stationed in Sri Lanka as a marketing manager for Reckitt and Colman in the period 1963-64.
Critically, he had gone through National Service in the RAF in the 1950s. This specific background experience heightens the value of his analysis of the Eelam Wars in Sri Lanka. Fatal misjudgements of the war scenario have beset the analysis of Sri Lankan events essayed by members of the intelligentsia, both foreign and Lankan, who are oblivious to their desk-bound blindness when addressing the intricacies of war. Not so with Naseby.
I did not pursue conventional paths in reading this book, though, quite conventionally, I noted the absence of a bibliography as a significant lapse on the part of Michael Morris the Lord Naseby. Having checked the Table of Contents, I went directly to some of the Appendices (mostly useful embellishments). Appendix IV, with his address to the House of Lords on 11th June 2014 entitled “Review of Sri Lankan post war,” provides data of the greatest importance. After castigating those British personnel who listen to the exaggerations of the Tamil diaspora (complicit in Tiger “terrorism”), he forcefully asserts that the Sri Lankan government “tried hard to minimise casualties” and raises a rhetorical question: “Why do we think that the Sri Lankan army, which we helped to train, is so different from our own army?”
He then provides his punchline: “Yes” there should be a military inquiry because all the argument is basically about gunfire et cetera. A retired general should conduct it, perhaps from Australia.”
This line of argument is wholly in keeping with the insights he had gained in Colombo on 21st January 2009 when listening to the appraisal provided by Lt. Col Gash, the Defence Attache at the British Embassy; and his subsequent struggle to secure the release of Gash’s series of reports during the final five months of the war. Some of the redacted Gash reports are now made available as Appendix VII (pp. 273-77) — a resource of immense value for those who are willing to keep an open mind.
One of the most significant themes in Lord Naseby’s autobiography is the detailed account of his struggles to extract the Gash despatches from the Foreign Office and the Information Office (together constituting “Whitehall” for our review). It took him around 30 months of persistent letter-writing, phone calls and speeches in the House of Lords to extract these Gash reports from the Whitehall set of defensive bunkers. It was, and is, work worthy of a “Bureaucratic Victoria Cross”.
This “award” is not in jest. The bureaucratic resistance from Whitehall underlines the partialities displayed by the British ruling class in the Conservative Party (Naseby’s very own party) and not just the arrogant positions taken by such twits as David Cameron and David Miliband. In brief, it pinpoints a major issue for political analysis: how is it that British ruling elements chose to side with the partisan international politics pressed by the Tamil Tiger diaspora in alliance with human rights activists in such organisations as HRW, Amnesty International and ICG during the period 2008 to the present? …. while continuing to adhere to this stance in the UNHRC in Geneva, where the American ambassador Eileen Donahue even phoned the Sri Lankan ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam in September 2011 and said “we will get you” (an instance of primeval vengeance politics in the Swiss mountains).
Naseby’s account of this struggle to extract the Gash despatches for public illumination is in Chapter 16, the most boring chapters in his book. But it is central background for the vital issue I have presented above: how is it that the Sri Lankan Tamils had such clout in UK? Naseby’s answer is to pinpoint constituency politics and the vote-pressures mounted by the 300,000 or so Sri Lankan Tamil migrants in UK and especially those congregated in certain marginal seats (see his pp. 238-39, 242).
That factor was (and is) certainly a major force in sustaining these partialities. But we need to expand our speculations. I would stress the constellation of two other factors: (B) the strong currents of liberalism and radicalism within the British middle and upper classes and (C) the depth of horror aroused and implanted in the British public by the pogrom directed against the Tamils in July 1983 as major influences on this position – a body of thought sustained by the tales (some true, some concocted) purveyed by Tamil people who had experienced that set of atrocities as well as the stories conveyed by their children to their English mates.
The thinking of the Whitehall personnel would also have been bolstered by the one-sided reportage of the war in 2007-09 purveyed by a phalanx of media personnel within UK partial to the LTTE: for instance, Marie Colvin, Frances Harrison, Gethin Chamberlain, Charles Haviland, Jeremy Page, Nick Paton-Walsh, Jon Snow and Callum McRae.
These ‘quibbles’ with Lord Naseby on my part should not detract from my admiration for the forthrightness with which he castigates the British authorities for their failure to “face up to the reality of the LTTE” and its “atrocities” – atrocities that are presented within a segment of the book where he elaborates on their vicious campaigns of terror in Colombo and the border areas as well as their recruitment of child soldiers. Against this background, he expresses disgust at the fact that Anton and Adele Balasingham were permitted space to act within Britain; and laments the fact that an active Tiger army officer like Adele remains free of any war crimes charges (pp. 238-39).
These specifics are presented within a chapter which lambasts the LTTE for (A) the cold-blooded killing of several Sri Lankan parliamentarians and Ministers; (B) the killing of Rajiv Gandhi; (C) the recruitment of child soldiers; (D) the “ethnic cleansing of 75,000 Muslims” from the north; (E) the massacres of Muslims at mosques in the east in 1990 and 1992; (F) the “forced herding of around 300,00 Tamils as a human shield” in 2008/09; and (G) the rejection of calls for a No Fire Zone in 2009.
So much, then, for the ‘hot topics’ from recent times. But there is a great deal more of an useful autobiographical kind where Michael Lord Naseby relates in readable prose a tale of repeated visits to the island beginning with his professional duties as Marketing Manager for Reckitt and Colman in 1963-64 and continuing with regular visits on holiday or official duty or tsunami relief work right through to the 2010s.
Mark this: Naseby kept notes and wrote memoranda about his encounters. He seems to have been an assiduous account keeper. The punch and power in his autobiographical reviews of life and times comes from this solid habit, one that has enhanced his lifetime work as a mover-and-shaker. As it happens, he got to move in high circles in Sri Lanka. Beginning with Anandatissa de Alwis, one finds him hobnobbing on occasions with Chandrika Kumaratunga, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, and Mahinda Rajapakse (two subsequently assassinated by the LTTE and one severely wounded).
Perhaps the most significant impact on the island from the relationships noted above was his friendship with Gamini Dissanayake at a time when the latter was in charge of the Mahaweli Development Authority and had begun negotiating with Balfour Beatty, a major engineering firm, to build a dam across the Mahaweli Ganga near Kandy so as to generate power and service irrigation further downstream.
Naseby’s descriptions of this process have been an eye-opener for ignoramus Roberts. I was not aware of the financial scale of the project – eventually turning out to be one of the largest grants ever to any country from the British Exchequer up to that time (the 1980s: namely involving the figure of 110 million British pounds: page 69). It is no surprise that Margaret Thatcher was invited to open the dam when it was completed, a request she readily met on the 12th April 1985 (pp. 66-70).
Huge this, the Victoria Dam. Gargantuan. Having wide-ranging consequences for the life of so many people – whether contractors, workers, lawyers, , politicians and their hangers-on. But, given my partialities, the most meaningful sideline here was the flow-on impact on Sri Lanka’s cricketing status in the world. While the cricketers themselves had done more than enough to underline their capacities during the 1975 and 1979 World Cup matches in England, the conservative prejudices of the Colonel Blimps in the MCC stood in their way.
So, mark this: well before Gamini Dissanayake became head of the BCCSL, that being June 1981, he seems to have begun working on plans to break the resistance within the MCC and ICC. This was when he stayed at Michael Morris’s house in Bedfordshire at some point in 1980 …. yes, 1980 (see Paradise, p. 103). Alas, no further details are provided. But I conjecture that Balfour Beatty featured strongly in these schemes. Their profit-making hopes in Sri Lanka had to be prefaced by the organisation of social functions and dinners for the English and other powerbrokers in the ICC where Gamini and his aides gently pressed their case. Firmed up by solid cricketing reasons for Sri Lanka cricket’s entry to full-fledged ICC Test status, we know that Gamini was able to participate in the ICC gathering in June 1981 and secure Sri Lanka’s spot at this highest level.
That is not the only moment when cricketing interests penetrate this work. During the tsunami relief work in the Maldives and Sri Lanka pursued so vigorously by Naseby and his doctor wife Ann, they had seen the devastation wrought on the picturesque cricket ground in front of the Fort at Galle. When Naseby returned to the island in early 2006, he brought a cheque for 50,000 British pounds from the MCC assigned for the restoration of the facilities at this spot. In effect, he scuttled the plans germinating in the mind of one Thilanga Sumathipala, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, to build an entirely new stadium at some spot such as Habaraduwa – with all the benefits associated with the political and financial deals linked to such ventures.
Ah! We cannot erase the tsunami story after the huge blow on 26 December 2004. Michael and Ann traveled immediately to the Maldives and Sri Lanka in January armed for relief work. Alarming details on the destruction wrought on life and property are intertwined with accounts of specific relief work they devoted time and money to: 35,262 estimated dead; 519,063 homeless; 29,694 fishing boats lost or damaged; large numbers of the buoys vital to the ‘life’ of fishing boats gone missing. It is from such mundane detail that disaster is illuminated (as we know only too well now via Mr coronavirus).
There are, of course, important details regarding the British tsunami relief work: a chartered plane with bottled water from Oxfam; the Fish and Chips project to rebuild the fishing fleet; the “Adopt a School” project; and the initiative displayed by Steve Ainsworth representing the British government and Geoffrey Dobbs a resident at Galle and Weligama. He is not blind to the confusions caused by too many well-meaning INGOs stepping on each other’s toes and has the nous to tell us that the tents supplied by Italy and Saudi Arabia were the most suitable among the plethora of tent donations. Good temporary hosing is vital when major catastrophes occur.
It is in this chapter that he brings in his interaction with Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Rajapaksa brothers. The former was abroad when the tsunami hit and he was impressed by the way in which Prime Minister Rajapaksa “took command” (p. 129). It is in this chapter – perhaps surprisingly — that he addresses the impending clouds of renewed war; touches on the powerful LTTE lobbies in UK and its parliament; and the preparations for a renewal of fighting taken (wisely) by the three Rajapaksa brothers – from the development of rapport with Man Mohan Singh and his Indian advisors (p. 131); to the huge expansion of the armed forces assisted by the Tri Ads television advertisement (p. 131); the setting up of defence.lk web site (p. 131); and the presentation of TV announcements in all there languages (p. 140).
It is in chapters 17 and 18 that Naseby confronts the most contentious topics of recent times, viz., the last stages of Eelam War IV and its death toll. Beginning with the resounding truth that the LTTE represented “no less than a unadulterated terrorism on a scale never seen before” (p. 223), he claims that the war has to be appraised under “International Humanitarian Law, [not] Human Rights legislation.” This is a significant reading that I am not qualified to assess. I have since learnt that Neville Ladduwahetty has presented this argument convincingly in his book Sri Lanka’s Armed Conflict (Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014).
He then lays stress on the contextual background fact that the LTTE used their Tamil people “as a human shield [and] bargaining counter” (p. 224); before proceeding to challenge the various allegations targeting the Sri Lankan government for pursuing a war-campaign of genocide, while also denying the claim that the detention centres organised to temporarily house the Tamil civilian survivors (some 290,000) were concentration camps (or “death camps” — vide Dixon 2009). He and his wife Ann had visited the maps in April 2012 when only a small number of IDPs remained and their reports “praised the staff and the facilities” (p. 227).
I can personally endorse the latter contention on the basis of a visit in mid-2010 and extensive studies over time via interaction with Drs Herath and Safras and senior staff at Sewalanka and LEEDs — two NGOs based in Vavuniya whose personnel rendered yeomen service to the distraught Tamil IDPs in 2009 with the help of military and police personnel, and some INGOs and (mostly Tamil) government servants. My one regret is that Lord Naseby did not access this body of material – a huge stock that is as illuminating as substantial.
When this corpus of studies is surveyed, one can only gnash one’s teeth in disgust at the horrendous accounts of the Manik Farm enterprise purveyed by some Tamil propagandists and the blatant chicanery of Jeremy Page (BBC) when he circulated a headline reading “1400 die every week in the IDP camps” – a story that spread like wildfire because the Western media had the Rajapaksa government in its gunsights.
Such minor quibbles aside, Naseby’s Sri Lanka. Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained is a tour de force – even though I do not consider the land and its people, my people, idyllic in every which way.
While endorsing Lord Naseby slashing criticism of the LTTE leadership for its deployment of so many Tamil civilians as a “human shield” and “bargaining counter,” I stress here that this policy was implemented from about the second quarter of 2008 when they cajoled and forced their Tamil peoples within the western portions of Thamililam to move eastwards and ratcheted up their propaganda picture of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe.” Thus, the LTTE political commissar Puleedevan informed some friends in Europe: “just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died … the world would be forced to step in” (a cat let out of the bag by Frances Harrison 2012: 63). Critically, in responding vigorously in support of this picture at various points thereafter, both the Western governments and the various HR agencies in Sri Lanka and the world became de facto allies of the LTTE.
The sharpest edge of such international support – in effect as partners of the LTTE – was displayed in (A) the secret meeting at Kuala Lumpur orchestrated by KP Pathmanathan in February 2009 and in the despatch of an American recce team to the island in the same month; and (B) in US ambassador Blake’s demands during the months January-April 2009 for a ceasefire from the GoSL side when he knew that the Tigers would not abide by such a stilling of guns. In other words, the so-called “international community” aided and abetted the LTTE in generating the significant toll of civilian deaths – maybe 4800 persons in sum if Lord Naseby’s guesswork (p. 249) is valid – on top of the many more Tiger dead and the considerable number of SL Army deaths.
In this reading the international witch hunt pursued by the Western governments and the UNHRC in Geneva after the war ended, with blanket backing from vociferous Western media outlets, is an outrageous crime. They were an active party in the LTTE’s war strategy in 2008/09.
For these ‘parties’ to be sitting in ‘superior’ courts of justice assessing the war scenario is a farce on an astronomic scale.
Abeysekera, Lakshi 2012  “The last lot of IDPs from the Nandikadal area, The Omanthai feeding operation,” August 2010, http://thuppahis.com/2012/09/22/the-last-lot-of-idps-from-nandhikadal-area-may-2009-the-omanthai-feeding-operation/
Banu, Dilshy 2012 Operation Manik Farm, Colombo, Stamford Lake.
Chamberlain, Gethin 2009 “Makeshift Sri Lanka hospital is shelled, taking 47 lives,” 12 May 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/12/sri-lanka-hospital-shelling-tamil-tigers
Chandradasa, Dr Lalith 2009 “Heavy deaths in camps not correct’, says a Sarvodaya leader working in IDP CAMPS,” 20 July 2009, http://asiantribune.com/node/22069
Dixon, Richard 2009 “Tamils languishing in Sri Lankan Death Camps,” 12 June 2009, http://richarddix.livejournal.com/2028.html.
Engage Sri Lanka 2013 Corrupted Journalism. Channel 4 and Sri Lanka. A Collective Work by Engage Sri Lanka, http://www.corruptedjournalism.com/book/Corrupted%20Journalism.pdf
Gray, David 2009 “A Day at the Front Line in Sri Lanka (Photographer’s Blog),” 27 April 2009, http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2009/04/27/a-day-at-the-front-line-in-sri-lanka/
Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead. Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War,London: Portobello Books.
Harshula 2011a “When allegations becomes evidence,” 6 June 2011, http://groundviews.org/2011/06/06/when-allegations-become-evidence/
Harshula 2011b “Channel 4 ‘Killing Fields’: Journalism, Advocacy or Propaganda?” 13 Sept. 2011, http://groundviews.org/2011/09/13/channel-4s-killing-fields-journalism-advocacy-or-propaganda/.
ICRC 2009 “Sri Lanka: ICRC assists thousands of persons in government-run sites for the displaced,” 9 June 2009, http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/update/sri-lanka-update-090609.htm.
IDAG 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” http://www.margasrilanka.org/ OR http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice
Kunanayakam, Tamara 2014 “ ‘We will get You’ ….American Threat at the UNHRC in Geneva in September 2011.” 27 September 2014, https://thuppahis.com/2019/09/27/we-will-get-you-american-threat-at-the-unhcr-in-geneva-in-september-2011/
Marga 2011 Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka, http://www.margasrilanka.org/Truth-Accountability.pdf.
Mango 2011 “Jim Macdonald of AI boxed into corner by Mango in 2009,” 10 August 2011, http://thuppahis.com/2011/08/10/3133/
Narayan Swamy, M. R. 2009 “Prabhakaran: from Catapult Killer to Ruthless Insurgent,” IANS, 18 May 2009 – see http://twocircles.net/node/148596 [reprinted in The Tiger Vanquished, pp. 165-67].
Padraig Colman 2011 “Evaluating the ‘Churnalism’ from Channel 4 and the Moon Panel,” 17 August 2011, http://thuppahis.com/2011/08/17/a-credible-evaluation-of-%e2%80%9cchurnalism%e2%80%9d-from-channel-4-and-the-moon-panel/
Ragavan 2009a “Interview with Ragavan on Tamil Militancy (Early Years),” http://kafila.org /2009/02/16/interview-with-ragavan-on-tamil-militancy-part-i/
Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009a “An Escape from Hellhole,” http://www.hindu.com/2009/04/25/stories/ 2009042558390100.html.
Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009b “Multiple Displacements, Total Loss of Identity,” http://www.hindu.com/ 2009/05/27/stories/2009052755811500.htm
Roberts, Michael 2009 “The Rajapaksa Regime and the Fourth Estate,” 12 August 2009, https://groundviews.org/2009/12/08/the-rajapakse-regime-and-the-fourth-estate/
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Roberts, Michael 2010e “Dilemmas at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” 10 Feb. 2009, http://groundviews.org/2009/02/10/dilemmas-at-wars-end-thoughts-on-hard-realities/, rep. in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 267-74.
Roberts, Michael 2010f “Dilemma’s at War’s End: Clarifications and Counter-offensive,” www. groundviews.org, rep. in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 275-87.
Roberts, Michael 2011e “Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011, http://thuppahis.com/2011/08/10/amnesty-international-reveals-its-flawed-tunnel-vision-on-sri-lanka-in-2009/
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Roberts, Michael 2012a “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapāharan’s Thinking,” Colombo Telegraph, 12 February 2012, http://thuppahi. wordpress.com/2012/11/26/velupillai-pirapaharan-veera-maranam/… rep. in TPS: Essays, 2014: 69-89.
Roberts, Michael 2012b “Longitudinal UNICEF Survey of Nutrition in the IDP Camps in 2009,” December 2012, http://thuppahis.com/2012/12/12/longitudinal-unicef-survey-of-nutrition-in-the-idp-camps-in-2009/.
Roberts, Michael 2018 “Reflections: Interpreting the Gash Files, IV,” 29 August 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/04/29/reflections-interpreting-the-gash-files-iv/
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Roberts, Michael 2019 “Ludicrous Verdicts in Powerful Quarters Still Asserted TODAY: Death Toll in Eelam War IV Magnified Manifold,” 2 December 2019, https://thuppahis.com/2019/12/02/ludicrous-verdicts-in-powerful-quarters-still-asserted-today-death-toll-in-eelam-war-iv-magnified-manifold/
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Setunga, Myrna 2009c “An Overview: Setunga V,” 22 July 2009 22 July 2009, http://thuppahis.com/2012/10/01/an-overview-setunga-v-22-july-2009/
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Trawick, Margaret 2007 Enemy Lines. Warfare, Childhood, and Play in Batticaloa, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Unambuwe, Manori 2009 “The Fallacy of Concentration Camps,” The Island, 3 May 2009, http://www.island.lk/2009/05/03/features7.html.
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US Department of State 2009 Report to Congress on Incidents during the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/131025.pdf
UTHR (University Teachers for Human Rights) 1994 Frozen Minds & the Violence of Attrition, Thirunelvely, Jaffna: Report No. 13 of the University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna.
United Nations See Darusman Report
United Nations See Petrie Report
UTHR 1994 Frozen Minds & the Violence of Attrition. Thirunelvely, Jaffna: Report No. 13 of the University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna.
UTHR 1995 The Exodus, Special Report No. 6, 6 Dec. 1995, http://www.uthr.org/ SpecialReports/spreport6.htm.
 I was in England for my sister Audrey’s funeral services and stayed with Amal Abeywardena in London during one spell there. He took me to meet Naseby.
 See Roberts, “Ludicrous Verdicts,” 2018 and “The Western Worlds’ Cumulous Clouds of Deception,” 2018.
 I have presented these reports by focusing on selected themes: see the four-part series Roberts 2018 and the review essay “Reflections: Interpreting the Gash Files, IV,” 29 April 2018, …………………………… …………. https://thuppahis.com/2018/04/29/reflections-interpreting-the-gash-files-iv/
 Gerald Peiris, always up to speed on land matters, confirmed that it was the biggest single British investment in any part of the world up to then (phone, March 2020).
 Sri Lanka had not only won the ICC Trophy for minnows in 1979; but performed reasonably well in the World Cup that year. Then, when Australia played three ODI matches in Sri Lanka as a Test Match, the Sri Lankans trounced the Aussies in one ODI match and lost by a whisker in the other two; while dismissing the Aussies for 124 runs and 178 runs in the four-day match at the Oval which ended in a draw (see http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1980S/1980-81/OTHERS+ICC/AUS_IN_SL/AUS_SL_07-10MAY191.html). These are memorable moments for yours truly …. I watched three of these contests.
 See https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/23117919/future-galle-stadium-doubt
 See Unamboowe 2009; Setunga 2009a, b and c; and espec. Roberts, 2010.
 See Chandradasa 2009.
 Quotation from Times in TamilNet, 10 July 2009, Page had been deported from Sri Lanka on 17-18 April 2009 for trying to enter the country after he had been refused journalist accreditation to enter. Indirect information indicates that he was fed this particular canard by a notorious wheeler-dealer politician from the deep south who still indulges in machinations now [with USA alongside]. Also see http://www.nowpublic.com/world/ death-toll-1-400-week-manik-farm-camp-time-reports.
 See Roberts, “Generating Calamity,” 2014.
 See Salter 2015: 354 and note Jeyaraj 2011.
5 responses to “FOR Sri Lanka: Engaging Lord Naseby and His Journeys in Sri Lanka”
A new form of ‘superiority’ has emerged in the West. Of course, it existed in colonial times, but has now mutated into a very aggressive insidious form than ever existed in colonial times. It is right to expose it as you are doing here.
AN EMAIL NOTE from Chandra Wickremasinghe, Ex-Mahinda College, Arunachalam Hall and CCS, 5 April 2020: …… “There was clearly a pathological bias shown by the West towards the LTTE . Lord Naseby was and is the exception.”
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