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Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Yugoslavia

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1992
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Yugoslavia, 1 January 1992, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca581e.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1991

Human Rights Developments

General chaos in Yugoslavia, fueled by the virtual disintegration of central authority, armed conflict in Croatia, and continuing repression in Kosovo, yielded a dramatic worsening of the human rights situation in 1991. By the end of the year, the federal government of Yugoslavia had ceased to function and the European Community had decided to recognize Slovenia and Croatia by January 15, 1992. The federal army was controlled by Serbia. Power lay in the hands of nationalist republican governments, with policies that often led to severe violations of the civil and political rights of minorities.

On June 25, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence. Macedonia followed suit on September 8, as did Bosnia-Hercegovina on October 15. Having declared their independence, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina boycotted many federal institutions. In October, without the consent of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia or Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia and its three allies on the federal presidency – Kosovo, Vojvodina and Montenegro – announced that they would assume control of the federal presidency and certain powers of the federal assembly.

Soon after Slovenia declared its independence, the federal military attacked the republic but quickly retreated in defeat at the hands of Slovenian militia forces. The army then turned its attention to Croatia. In conjunction with rebel Serbs who oppose Croatian independence, the army has been waging a full-scale war against Croatia since July. With the support of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's government, Serbian insurgents in Croatia have taken over forty percent of Croatia's territory and appear poised to impose Serbian rule over most of the republic. Inter-ethnic skirmishes threaten to destabilize the republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, where Serbian and Montenegrin rebel forces have occupied territory as well. As violent political struggle rages, human rights in all parts of the country have suffered dramatically.

Helsinki Watch takes no position on Yugoslavia's territorial integrity or the claims to independence of its constituent republics. Our only concern is that the human rights of all individuals be respected. Most of the gross abuses are being committed by the federal military and the Serbian government. The Yugoslav armed forces bear responsibility for indiscriminate attacks against civilian targets in Croatia, with thousands of deaths and injuries the result. The Serbian government for years has been abusing the human rights of Albanians in the province of Kosovo and more recently has directly supported the Serbian insurgents in Croatia, who in turn have been committing gross violations of human rights, including the summary execution of unarmed civilians. Croatian security forces and individual extremists have also violated the human rights of Serbs.

The Serbian government's oppression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo is the most protracted human rights problem in Yugoslavia. Physical mistreatment remains a serious problem, while systematic discrimination increased dramatically in 1991. Albanian professionals – particularly those working in the fields of medicine and education – were dismissed from their jobs and replaced with Serbian and Montenegrin workers. Over 20,000 Albanians lost their jobs because of ethnic discrimination during the year.

Serbian security forces, paramilitary units and civilians have used arbitrary force against unarmed Albanians, including children, killing fifty Albanians in 1991. Serbian security forces unlawfully searched Albanian homes, destroying property and beating inhabitants. Moreover, Serbian authorities are reportedly arming Serbian and Montenegrin civilians in Kosovo, who in turn are intimidating the Albanian population.

Ethnic Albanians continue to be jailed for nonviolent political "offenses," including possession of certain Albanian-language publications and participation in peaceful demonstrations. Most Albanians have been sentenced to thirty- to sixty-day prison terms for such "offenses." Albanians have been severely beaten while in police custody and in prison. The daily Albanian-language newspaper, Rilindja, remains banned.

From September 26 to 30, Albanians in Kosovo conducted a self-styled referendum on Kosovo's independence from Serbia. In some areas balloting took place in individual homes to avoid police interference. Despite such precautions, Serbian security forces seized voting materials and arrested organizers of the referendum, as well as individual voters.

The Serbian government used repressive methods against peaceful demonstrators in Belgrade on March 9 and 10. Excessive police force and an ensuing riot resulted in the deaths of a seventeen-year-old youth and one police officer. At least 203 were wounded. Demonstration participants and organizers were arbitrarily arrested and harassed.

A parliamentary commission that investigated the violence exonerated the police and blamed the demonstrators for the violence. Helsinki Watch believes that neither the commission nor its report was objective or independent from government control. The report does concede that, during the course of the demonstration, the Ministry of Interior lost control of the situation and its ability to coordinate police action. However, the report neither criticizes nor condemns such ineptitude or police brutality. The report also ignores the events in the early morning hours of March 11, when students crossing the Brankov Bridge into Belgrade were beaten by police forces. Rather, the report reiterates statements made by Serbian government officials exonerating the police from blame immediately after the violence took place.

During its attack on Slovenia, the Yugoslav military strafed and bombed Slovenian towns and cities with little apparent regard for civilian life. Although the army claimed that it was trying to restore federal control of all international border posts, it took few precautions to protect civilians from air and mortar attacks. At least five civilians were killed in the clashes in Slovenia. The ten-day conflict ended with the retreat of federal forces from the republic.

In Croatia, a full-scale war evolved. After the May 1990 election of a nationalist Croatian government under President Franjo Tudjman, the republic's Serbian minority took up arms, fearing a resurrection of the kind of fascist Croatian state under which thousands of Serbs were killed during World War II. With material support from the Serbian government and the federal military, Serbian insurgents in Croatia launched attacks in the eastern and southern regions of the republic. The federal army, with its overwhelmingly Serbian officer corps, bombed and sent tanks against major Croatian cities.

Key political leaders in both Serbia and Croatia have inflamed inter-ethnic animosities between Serbs and Croats. Indeed, nationalism has been the linchpin of popular support in both republics. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic justifies the repression in Kosovo and the aggression in Croatia as necessary to protect the Serbs living in those regions. Similarly, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman campaigned on a stridently nationalist platform and gratuitously inflamed Serbs in Croatia. Moreover, Tudjman made little, if any, effort to appease the fears of Serbs in Croatia after his election. Through their control of the republican media, Tudjman and Milosevic have grossly misrepresented and manipulated alleged reports of human rights abuses by both sides. The Serbian and Croatian media have perpetuated nationalist hysteria in both republics to the point that criticism of the war is viewed as tantamount to treason by some.

The war in Croatia has been characterized by numerous violations of human rights and humanitarian law. Civilians and persons placed hors de combat have been summarily executed by both Serbian insurgents (reportedly in eight instances) and Croatian security forces (reportedly in three instances). On July 26, Serbian insurgents seized some forty civilians – including elderly people and a mentally retarded woman – and used them as human shields during an advance on Croatian positions. The Serbian rebels have also taken hostages in the hope of exchanging them for rebels held by Croatian authorities. Some forty Croats were not being permitted to leave the village of Old Tenja, a Serbian stronghold. Medical vehicles and personnel, including representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, have been fired upon. The Serbian insurgents have held medical personnel hostage and mistreated them during detention. Serbian insurgents, Croatian security forces and the federal army have all beaten their prisoners. Serbian rebels also have used electric shocks on their prisoners.

The Yugoslav military and Serbian insurgents have targeted major urban centers in Croatia. In many cases, these attacks have been indiscriminate and have resulted in loss of civilian life. The Yugoslav air force has bombed and strafed major Croatian cities. Homes, churches, schools, hospitals and cultural monuments have been attacked. Civilians account for approximately half of the dead and one third of the wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Croats, Serbs and others have been forced to flee their homes.

Ethnic discrimination is also a serious problem in Croatia. Individual Croatian workers required their Serbian colleagues to sign loyalty oaths to the Croatian government; those who refused often lost their jobs. The Croatian government belatedly condemned such campaigns but did not prosecute the organizers. Similarly, Croats have been dismissed from their jobs in the Serbian-controlled areas of Knin, Gracac and Glina.

In a campaign of intimidation, both Serbs and Croats have destroyed civilian property, including homes and summer residences. In some cases, entire villages have been burned.

The indiscriminate use of land mines has prevented medical personnel and relief organizations from evacuating the wounded and distributing humanitarian aid in parts of Croatia. A twelve-vehicle convoy, organized by Doctors Without Borders, evacuated 109 seriously injured people from the besieged town of Vukovar on October 19. Leaving the town, one of the trucks hit a mine and two nurses (from Switzerland and Luxembourg) were injured. Local Red Cross personnel have been hampered from evacuating the dead and wounded by the continued fighting and the placement of land mines around besieged towns and villages.

The Right to Monitor

In 1991, in contrast to 1990, there was no direct interference by the federal or republican governments with the right of domestic and international groups to monitor the human rights situation in Yugoslavia. However, various obstacles impede the ability to monitor human rights effectively in various parts of the country.

Human rights monitoring in Croatia and parts of Bosnia-Hercegovina became increasingly difficult and, indeed, dangerous as the year progressed. Land mines, road barricades, vigilante violence and indiscriminate shooting at civilian vehicles made travel and on-site investigation of abuses extremely difficult in Croatia. Nevertheless, various medical, religious and governmental bodies have monitored violations of human rights and humanitarian law. The Croatian government, through a Croatian parliamentary commission on human rights and the republic's Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, has made a genuine, though not comprehensive, effort to collect data about employment and other forms of discrimination against both Serbs and Croats and has made that information available to international and domestic human rights groups.

Various Serbian groups also monitor violations of the rights of Serbs in Croatia. Helsinki Watch received no reports of Croatian government interference with such activities.

On three separate occasions in 1990, the Serbian government detained international human rights monitors in Kosovo. Helsinki Watch received no reports of similar actions in 1991. The major human rights monitoring group in Kosovo, the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo, continued to monitor abuses without direct interference by the Serbian government.

The Policy of the European Community

The EC has toiled to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Croatia. It has sent observers to monitor and negotiate cease-fire agreements, only to be shot at by all parties. It has negotiated meetings between the warring factions and established working groups to discuss the future of Yugoslavia, all to no avail. It has negotiated at least thirteen cease-fires, none of which has been respected by the feuding parties.

The EC has considerable leverage to press for greater respect for human rights and humanitarian law. It is Yugoslavia's largest trading partner, accounting for sixty percent of Yugoslavia's foreign trade. In 1990, Yugoslavia received over $1.5 billion in assistance from the EC. In November, the EC imposed economic sanctions against all of Yugoslavia's republics because of continued violations of cease-fire agreements. The sanctions included the suspension of the EC's 1980 trade and cooperation agreement with Yugoslavia, restoration of the EC's quantitative import limits on Yugoslav textiles, the removal of Yugoslavia from the list of beneficiaries of the General System of Preferences, and formal suspension of benefits under the EC-administered "Phare" food and economic assistance program.33 The EC also suspended trade relations with Yugoslavia and proposed that the United Nations Security Council impose an oil embargo against Yugoslavia.

On December 2, the European Community lifted sanctions against all the Yugoslav republics except Serbia and its ally, Montenegro. A report from the EC monitoring mission harshly criticized the federal army for "brutally attacking civilian targets" and "wantonly destroying Croatian villages."34

Because of the systematic violation of human rights and humanitarian law in Croatia by Serbian-backed paramilitary groups and the Serbian-led federal army and the Serbian government's continued repression against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Helsinki Watch welcomes the EC's maintenance of sanctions against the government of Serbia. Helsinki Watch also calls upon the EC to urge the Croatian government to take steps to protect the human rights of all ethnic groups in Croatia and to punish those found guilty of violating those rights.

On December 17, the EC, under pressure from Germany, announced that it would recognize Slovenia and Croatia by January 15, 1992, provided that they guaranteed respect for existing borders, human rights, and the rights of minorities.

U.S. Policy

In contrast to the EC's activism, the Bush Administration has reacted sluggishly and ineffectively to the crisis in Yugoslavia. Although the United States, particularly the Embassy in Belgrade, has publicly criticized human rights abuses in Yugoslavia, the Bush Administration devoted too much energy in trying to preserve Yugoslav unity and the faltering government of Prime Minister Ante Markovic rather than address the human rights violations by individual republican governments.

In November 1990, President Bush signed into law legislation that appropriated foreign assistance for fiscal year 1991. It included a provision barring bilateral assistance to Yugoslavia and requiring U.S. representatives to oppose loans to Yugoslavia by international financial institutions unless all six of the country's republics had held free and fair multiparty elections and none was engaged in a pattern of gross violations of human rights. Known as the Nickles amendment, this provision took effect on May 6. The law permitted the president to waive the provisions if Yugoslavia was found to be making "significant strides towards complying with the obligations of the Helsinki Accords and [was] encouraging any republic which has not held free and fair elections to do so."

By May 1991, all the republics had held elections, although the elections in Serbia and Montenegro were neither free nor fair.35 In addition, severe human rights abuses were still being committed by the Serbian government against the Albanian majority in Kosovo. Given these problems, Helsinki Watch welcomed the suspension of five million dollars of U.S. aid to Yugoslavia and U.S. opposition to Yugoslavia's loan requests before the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler announced that aid to Yugoslavia was being cut off because the Serbian leadership was exercising "severe repression in ... Kosovo ... , had not conducted fully free and fair elections, and was ... acting to destabilize the Yugoslav presidency."36

However, after a twenty-day suspension, economic aid was restored when Secretary of State James Baker invoked the amendment's certification mechanism. The restoration of aid was coupled with the invocation of Step Two of the Human Dimension Mechanism established by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)37 – a formal request for bilateral discussions – and the suspension of Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) risk insurance for new U.S. investment in Serbia. The Administration claimed that aid was restored because the Nickles amendment was doing little to hurt Serbian President Milosevic, at whom the sanctions were directed. Rather, the Administration contended, the Nickles amendment was destabilizing the federal government of Prime Minister Ante Markovic, which the United States supported. The Bush Administration claimed that Prime Minister Markovic was in the best position to encourage respect for human rights and democratic development. While Markovic's moderate political platform may have been appealing in theory to the United States, the Markovic government in fact had no control over the human rights practices of the individual republics.

Helsinki Watch believes that the Administration was wrong to restore aid. First, the aim of the Nickles amendment was to make U.S. aid contingent upon the development of multiparty democracy and respect for human rights in Yugoslavia. By placing the U.S. interest in supporting Markovic ahead of human rights concerns, the United States placed political interests above the intent of the amendment. Second, the aid was restored after only a twenty-day suspension – not enough time for the sanctions to affect the Serbian government. Finally, the amendment by its terms could be waived only if the president certified that Yugoslavia was "making significant strides toward" compliance with the Helsinki accords. By invoking the certification mechanism, the Bush Administration ignored the legal requirements of the amendment. Helsinki Watch believes that Yugoslavia was not complying with its obligations under the Helsinki accords nor was it making "significant strides toward" compliance, particularly in Kosovo, and that such certification was not justifiable.

Moreover, Section 116 of the Foreign Assistance Act provides that governments engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights should be denied economic assistance except basic humanitarian aid. Ordinarily, it suffices to apply this law to an abusive national government, but in light of the diminished de facto significance of the federal government in Yugoslavia it is critical also to apply it to abusive security forces and republican governments. Particular offenders are the Serbian government in Kosovo and Serbian insurgents and the Yugoslav army in Croatia, all of which are responsible for gross abuses of human rights and humanitarian law.

In July, although the Administration denied that it was shifting its position toward Yugoslavia, it abandoned its earlier insistence on a single, unified Yugoslav state.38 It said that it would support independence for secessionist-minded republics if achieved peacefully,39 while calling for an end to the use of force by the federal military.

At an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council on September 25, at which the United Nations imposed an arms embargo on Yugoslavia, Secretary Baker took the long overdue stand that the Serbian government and the federal military were responsible for the bloodshed in Croatia. While stating that the U.S. appreciated Serbian concerns about the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the secretary asserted that the U.S. "cannot and will not accept repression and the use of force in the name of those concerns." Moreover, Baker accused the federal military of "causing deaths to the citizens it is constitutionally supposed to protect."40

In the past, the United States opposed the suspension of aid to Yugoslavia or its constituent republics on the grounds that sanctions would undermine the federal government and inevitably lead to Yugoslavia's dissolution. Given the drastic course of events in recent months, the Bush Administration followed the EC's lead and imposed sanctions against Yugoslavia in November. Helsinki Watch welcomes the imposition of sanctions and urges that they be directed at the Serbian government and the Yugoslav army, which is using its military might against civilians. However, for economic sanctions to be thoroughly effective, Yugoslavia's non-European Community members must also agree to impose similar sanctions against the Yugoslav armed forces and the Serbian government. Helsinki Watch also welcomes the cessation of Yugoslavia's participation in the International Military Education Training program and the suspension of OPIC for Serbia in May.

In addition, the United States should pressure the Croatian government to take concrete steps to ensure that minority rights are respected and that those guilty of violating those rights are brought to justice. Furthermore, Helsinki Watch calls upon the U.S. government to take a more active role in condemning human rights violations, especially the summary execution of civilians, not only from the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, but also from the White House and the State Department in Washington. Such U.S. leadership would signal that gross abuses of human rights will not be tolerated as a way of resolving historical grievances, ethnic disputes and territorial claims.

Various members of the U.S. Congress, some acting in response to ethnic constituencies in their home districts, have taken an interest in Yugoslavia and brought considerable publicity to human rights issues, particularly in Kosovo. In recent months, both chambers of Congress have passed several resolutions condemning the use of force to resolve political differences within Yugoslavia.

The human rights efforts of the U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmermann, and the record of the United States Embassy and Consulate continue to be exemplary. Ambassador Zimmermann has condemned all parties guilty of human rights abuses in Yugoslavia. He and his staff made frequent trips throughout the country, including to conflicted areas in Croatia and Kosovo. During such visits they spoke not only to government officials but also to opposition leaders, human rights activists, labor groups and media figures. Human rights concerns and evidence of abuses have been brought to the attention of relevant authorities in Yugoslavia both publicly and privately. Ambassador Zimmermann and the U.S. consul general in Zagreb, Michael Einik, have reported cases of human rights violations against Serbs in Croatia to Croatian President Tudjman. Ambassador Zimmermann also has expressed concern to President Momir Bulatovic of Montenegro about discriminatory measures taken against independent journalists in that republic. The ambassador continues strongly to urge Serbian President Milosevic to correct the grave denial of basic civil rights to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The Embassy's U.S. Information Service (USIS) office has worked to strengthen democratic institutions and human rights in Yugoslavia. During the past year, USIS has supported efforts by the International Media Fund to assist independent media in Yugoslavia, sponsored programs on constitutional development and ethnic conflict resolution, and offered International Visitor grants to independent journalists and opposition figures, including several from Kosovo.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

In an effort to expand its monitoring of the human rights situation in Yugoslavia, Helsinki Watch maintained a staff member in the country throughout 1991. The staff representative investigated human rights abuses and sustained contacts with human rights activists, government officials and members of the press throughout Yugoslavia.

In addition, Helsinki Watch conducted six missions to Yugoslavia in 1991. On the basis of a mission in March, Helsinki Watch released a newsletter, "Yugoslavia: The March 1991 Demonstrations in Belgrade," which criticized the Serbian government for its excessive use of force during demonstrations in Belgrade in which two were killed and scores were injured.

In June, Helsinki Watch sent a mission to all the republics and provinces in Yugoslavia to investigate press freedoms. A report, Freedom of the Press in Yugoslavia: 1990-1991, was released in December. The report chronicled the increase in nationalist sentiments in the press, government control of the media and harassment of journalists.

In February, August and December, Helsinki Watch sent missions to investigate the status of the Serbian minority in Croatia and to document human rights and humanitarian law abuses in the armed conflict. The missions visited Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia. Mission participants spoke to human rights activists and lawyers, displaced persons, Serbian insurgents, Croatian officials, prisoners held by both sides, victims of abuse, and hostages held under house arrest in the village of Tenja. On the official level, the missions met on three occasions with Stipe Mesic, president of the Presidency of Yugoslavia, as well as with two deputy interior ministers of Croatia, public prosecutors in various districts throughout Croatia, Serbian insurgent commanders and Serbian political figures in Belgrade and Croatia. A September newsletter, "Yugoslavia: Human Rights Abuses in the Croatian Conflict," and a report to be released in January 1992 document violations by the Serbian insurgents, the Yugoslav army and Croatian security forces.

In December, Helsinki Watch sent a mission to Kosovo to investigate human rights abuses by Serbian officials against the Albanian population. A report documenting the mission's findings will be released in early 1992.

Helsinki Watch also wrote letters of protest and public appeals in an effort to draw attention to human rights abuses in Yugoslavia. In February, a letter was sent to then Yugoslav President Borisav Jovic expressing concern about the forcible repatriation of Albanian escapees from Albania, given the substantial risk of persecution at the time if returned. In March, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to Serbian President Milosevic condemning the use of excessive force by Serbian police against demonstrators in Belgrade. In July, a public appeal condemned the excessive and unlawful use of force by the Yugoslav army against civilians in Slovenia and Croatia.

Helsinki Watch also testified before the Senate Subcommittee on European Relations, on February 21. In its testimony, Helsinki Watch voiced concern about excessive use of force by both Serbian and Croatian authorities, the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Yugoslavia, and the Serbian government's hostile treatment of international human rights monitors in Kosovo in 1990.


Robert Mauthner and Laura Silber, "EC Puts Sanctions on Yugoslavia," Financial Times, November 10, 1991.

Laura Silber, "Serbia Excepted as EC Lifts Yugoslav Sanctions," The Washington Post, December 3, 1991. See also Chuck Sudetic, "Observers Blame Serb-Led Army for Escalating War in Croatia," The New York Times, December 3, 1991.

Unequal access to the media for opposition parties during the election campaigns in both republics and voter intimidation in Serbia were reported by the U.S. Congressional Commission on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (see Report on the U.S. Helsinki Delegation Visit to Hungary, Yugoslavia and Albania, March 22-28, 1991, pp. 9-26); the National Republican Institute for International Affairs (see The 1990 Elections in the Republics of Yugoslavia, February 1991, pp. 7-34); and the U.S. State Department (see statement released by spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler, May 24, 1991).

See Chuck Sudetic, "Yugoslavia Perplexed Over Status of Aid," The New York Times, May 21, 1991.

Step Two of the CSCE Human Dimension Mechanism stipulates that any participating state can ask that bilateral meetings with other participating states be held to discuss questions relating to the human dimension of the CSCE. (See Concluding Document of the Vienna 1986 Meeting of Representatives of the Participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, "Human Dimension of the CSCE (2)," January 15, 1989.)

For an example of the earlier policy of favoring unity, see State Department regular briefing, October 19, 1990, reaffirmed in State Department statements of January 25 and May 24, 1991, by spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler (expressing "support for the interrelated objectives of democracy, dialogue, human rights, market reform and unity.") See also testimony of James Dobbins, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, before the Senate Subcommittee on European Affairs, February 21, 1991; and testimony by Secretary of State James Baker before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, February 6, 1991, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 6-7, 1991.

See "U.S. Shifts Stance, Backs Yugoslav Break-Up if Peaceful," Reuters, July 2, 1991; and remarks by Secretary Baker during a photo opportunity at the State Department, July 2, 1991, as reported in the State Department's Dispatch, July 8, 1991.

The United States also condemned the federal Yugoslav military and the Serbian leadership on September 23 during the CSCE Conference on the Human Dimension in Moscow. See plenary statement by Ambassador Max Kampelman.

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