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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Journey to Freedom: Freedom Center Documentary

September 14, 2012


[00:00] TITLE CARD:

Until 1865, slavery was legal in the United States. Human beings were bought and sold, held in bondage as part of an institution sanctioned by the law and society.

[00:12] TITLE CARD:

Today, human traffickers—criminals willing to use abuse and exploitation as a tool for financial gain—hold as many as 27 million people in compelled service. Subjected to violence and fear, they cannot walk away.

While slavery is no longer legal, the fight for full freedom is not yet won.

[00:30] TITLE CARD:

In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free man from New York, was kidnapped and sold into slavery, an experience he recounted in his autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave.

In the 21st century, Vannak Prum, a man from Cambodia, was kidnapped and sold into slavery, an experience he shares through his drawings.

These are their stories.

[00:45] TITLE CARD:

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Presents

[00:50] TITLE CARD:

A Fair Trade Pictures Production

[00:58] Solomon Northup (actor): My name is Solomon Northup. I’m from upstate New York. I was born a free man there.

[1:05] Vannak Prum: My name is Vannak Prum. I am a Khmer national, born and raised in the country of Cambodia.

[1:13] Northup: Me and my wife, we lived in Saratoga Springs.

[1:17] Prum: I struggled with not having enough money to support my wife who was pregnant. I wanted to go look for work. I never had any intention of crossing the border.

[1:30] Northup: I was looking to provide some extra money for my family. The men from Washington, they were a couple of respectable looking gentlemen. They were at the tavern downtown, and they said they were looking for somebody to hire to be in their big show.

[1:44] Prum: There was a motorbike taxi driver who asked me, “Where are you going?” I answered that I was looking for work. The taxi driver said, “There are only jobs across the border.”

[1:55] Northup: So I took the job. And they said they would pay for everything, they’d pay for my trip, my food. Also I’d get to go see the Capitol which I always wanted to see.

[2:04] Prum: He said, “Whenever you want to come home, I will be the one to pick you up.” I thought to myself, I don’t believe it.

[2:18] TITLE CARD:

Journey to Freedom

[2:22] NARRATOR: On June 19, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented an award to 10 individuals from around the world for their outstanding work in the area of combating Human Trafficking.

[2:34] SECRETARY CLINTON: I want personally to thank them because they do remind us that one person’s commitment and passion, one person’s experience and the courage to share that experience with the world, can have a huge impact and I am delighted to welcome all of our TIP heroes here today, thank you.

[3:00] Narrator: These heroes of today are not unlike the heroes of years gone by. In fact, they use many of the same tactics and strategies employed over 150 years ago in America that helped slaves find freedom through a secret network of people and places known as the Underground Railroad. Caretakers and freedom fighters, advocates and defenders, people from all walks of life gave themselves in body and spirit to bring freedom to the enslaved.

The anti-trafficking heroes also visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Freedom Center exists to tell the stories of Freedom from the time of the Underground Railroad on, with the hope of challenging and inspiring all of us to take courageous steps for freedom today in the movement to end Human Trafficking.

History repeats itself, whether we ignore it or not. What you’re about to see is the startling similarity between the slave trade that occurred in the early history of the United States and today’s human trafficking. Although the institution of slavery has been outlawed, human trafficking continues, in the US and around the world.

Two men, 150 years apart, were promised a job and found themselves trafficked into slavery. Each of them have taken care to make their story known. The same methods and maneuvers used to free people like Cambodian man Vannak Prum were used by the Underground Railroad to free men like Solomon Northup, from upstate New York. This is the story they told.

[4:37] Northup: We got to Washington DC, and, seemed all my new bosses wanted to do was get drunk. They even tried to get me to drink with them, and well, I had one or two, but I wasn’t about to try to keep up with these gentlemen.

[4:49] Prum: We arrived around 5:00pm. There was a middleman there to pick us up. There were a lot of natives there, around 30 or so, both men and women, who were all sitting around eating. So I joined and ate with them.

[5:09] Northup: Some time late that night, it was my head, it felt like, well, I can’t explain it but like it was ready to burst.

[5:19] Prum: We arrived at the place where we were to be picked up. They made us pile in the car, one body on top of the other lined up. They took a black tarp and covered us with it so that the police would not see us. We all traveled together and we were terrified.

[5:45] Northup: I don’t remember much, several people came into my room. I blacked out, I—when I finally came to, I was alone and in darkness and I had chains around my wrists and ankles.

[5:57] Prum: They placed us in a cemented house that was old and broken down.

[6:03] Northup: I was finally able to get my bearings when they opened the door. It was a slave pen. Pure and simple.

[6:09] Prum: There were no windows, only a small open hole as a window.

[6:15] Northup: There was a yard, in front the door, it was like a farmer’s barnyard. And it had high walls, so it was not to see there were people inside instead of animals. I was able to look up over those walls one time, and…you know what I saw? The Capitol. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And a slave pen just down the street.

[6:41] Prum: They locked the house from the outside, which was next to the sea. I looked out and saw a lot of boats. I thought to myself that I am probably going to be sold off on to a boat.

[6:52] Northup: It was some man I had never seen before. I had demanded, I said, why was I in jail. He said that I was his slave and that he had bought me. Well I said I was a free man, and that, that just made him see red. And he stripped me of my clothes, and he beat me. And I kept telling him, I said that I was free man that this was all a mistake and he said I was a liar, and that I was a runaway from Georgia and he kept beating me. And he claimed that I even dreamed that I was free that he would kill me.

[7:34] Prum: I wanted to escape but the others were too afraid to risk it. We heard that if we escaped, they would catch us and shoot us to death.

[7:44] Northup: They took me and several others in the middle of the night to a steamboat. They placed us below with the freight. There wasn’t no room down there for us but we made do. We had no idea where they were taking us.

[8:05] Narrator: Slaves like Mr. Northup had no control over where they would end up. For slaves who were looking for a chance to escape, their greatest fear was to be taken into the deep south, further and further from their families.

On the border of a slave state, with only a river separating free men and women from bondage, the city of Cincinnati was uniquely positioned in the fight over slavery. Its community of abolitionists played a remarkable role in the eventual abolishment of slavery.

Cincinnati was a hub of innovation for abolition; an incubator for freeing slaves. This community was made up of people from all stripes and walks of life, from wealthy businessmen and lawyers to runaway slaves and free African Americans who were the hands and feet, eyes and ears of the engine of freedom.

One of these men named John Parker, who had purchased his own freedom at the age of 18, was one of the most courageous conductors of the Underground Railroad, exactly the kind of man who could have assisted Solomon Northup. Mr. Parker speculated that over 400 runaway slaves had gone through the “station” of his home down the river. He was a one-man seek and rescue operation, unafraid to venture into the deep south to help people escape with little regard for his own life.

[9:22] Gary Haugen: We rescue victims of violent abuse and oppression in the developing world and make sure that they are restored to the kind of place that they were meant to be. And then to make sure that we bring the perpetrators of abuse to account.

[9:34] Narrator: Gary Haugen and the International Justice Mission go into the deepest and darkest places, often impersonating clients or business owners who are looking for the services of those who have been trafficked. They not only free victims but bring the criminals involved to justice.

[9:49] Haugen: There were some communities that they had no voice at all, that they had no power that was being brought to bear on their behalf, they couldn’t access power. If I were a slave, if someone were holding me in a place of just horrific abuse, what would I want someone to do? I would want someone to come and be a voice for me. I’d want someone to bring to bear what they had on my behalf. If you’re willing to go to the most desperate place, whatever you bring to bear is going to have a disproportionately dramatic impact.

[10:26] Prum: That morning they brought us clothes to wear for work on the ship. They then led us onto the boat. It was a ship used for deep sea fishing. If they allowed us to get on deck, we could all jump overboard. But they would not let us out. They didn’t let us walk around until we were half way out to sea.

[10:51] Northup: They chained us all together. We were able to learn each other’s stories. I was handcuffed to a man named Robert, who was also born free. He had children, a wife, back in Cincinnati. Robert and I, we became friends right quick.

[11:09] Prum: There was a man who might have been about 50 years-old. He was walking about on the deck when suddenly he jumped overboard. The ship turned around to pick up the man and pulled him back onto the ship. The man hadn’t died, but was choking on water. The captain ordered that the man be thrown back into the sea.

[11:40] Northup: We discussed all the possibilities of trying to escape. Came up with a mighty good plan, too. Just the hope of it was keeping me sharp. Then, Robert, he was taken ill. Died a few days later. Then I watched them throw Robert’s body overboard the ship.

[12:04] Narrator: The life of a slave was valued at next to nothing. It didn’t take much for a slave trader to get rid of his excess human cargo. Today is no different. The average trafficked victim is bought and sold for as little as $200.

[12:20] Azezet Habtezghi Kidane: I cannot believe a human person can do to another human person with out any pity, only to think about your money. I have seen hundreds of them, not 200 years ago, now. They are tortured and you can see on their back, on their hands, on everywhere.

[12:40] Narrator: Sister Aziza (uh-ZEE-zuh) discovered victims of human trafficking in her work as a nurse. She shifted her focus and life’s work to care for rescued victims from this insidious trade.

[12:51] Kidane: They are taken to a warehouse and there they are chained, very little water in that heat of desert. The woman are also tortured, not as a man, but sexual torture.

[13:06] Narrator: 150 years earlier, another woman named Catherine Coffin, known as Aunt Katy, was also heavily involved in the care of freedom-seeking slaves along with her husband, Levi. Aunt Katy hid fugitives in the basement and in the attic of their home and reportedly directed runaways through a series of underground tunnels connected to other buildings as routes for quick escape. She established a sewing circle to provide clothing for those headed north, caring for the whole person, body and soul. Aunt Katy spearheaded the efforts to care for the runaway slaves coming through Cincinnati, making sure they were ready for their journey further into freedom.

[13:43] Kidane: They get so much scared. They don’t trust anymore so as soon as they open their heart they trust you and they want to tell you more. You need to listen, to give them time, to treat them as a person, to treat them as humans, that’s all.

[14:04] Northup: Robert’s death was hard. We were friends. I found myself just staring out into space sometimes. One of the sailors, he asked me why I was downcast. I told him, I said, well, I’ve been kidnapped and I was desperately trying to get word to my family. He got me some paper and a pen and I was able to write my letter. And I remember I watched him leap on the shore. First man off the boat at port to post my letter. And I remember he looked at me with a knowing look. I finally had reason to hope again.

[14:48] Prum: I was on that ship for a total of over three years, working as a fisherman. There came a day when the fishing license of the ship had expired. The ship went to pay its taxes. The ship had not yet reached the docks. At about midnight I jumped overboard. There were fish sauce containers, each carrying about 30 liters of fish sauce. We each dumped the fish sauce out and used the containers to help us swim to a nearby island. I had planned to escape in order to find the police.

[15:33] Narrator: Mr. Prum hoped the police would help him find his way home. Unfortunately, law enforcement isn’t always ready or able to assist.

[15:42] Fatimata M’Baye: On a 24-hour basis, I go to the police for minors. And usually it's through this interviewing process that it will be discovered we're dealing with an enslaved child.

[15:51] Narrator: Fatimata risks her own freedom on a regular basis. She has been arrested many times and even imprisoned for her actions. But she doesn’t back down in the face of danger.

[16:02] M’Baye: They eavesdrop on our phones, 24 hours. They listen to our conversations. They intercept our email. Because we tell the truth as we see it. It is for me the best job if you want to defend people who do not have the power to defend themselves.

[16:20] Narrator: Another daring abolitionist, William Casey, an African American operator of the Underground Railroad, had the reputation for such wisdom that other established abolitionists would seek out his advice and strategy. Like Fatimata, he willingly risked his own safety by entering into slave territory to help slaves escape.

[16:39] Raimi Vincent Paraiso: I have a team of rescuers, and we have nicknamed that team the Hawks. Our first move was to help these children simply because we were angry when we saw the way they were treated by traffickers. Just three days before coming to the United States to receive this award, I was detained and interrogated for a couple of hours simply because I had rescued a child from the house of a very rich man.

Traffickers are not ordinary citizens like me and you. They have connections, and they have very high connections. Anywhere in the world, if you go against the interest of somebody, you will not be seen positively by that person, and they will do everything they can to neutralize you. The international community should never stop protecting human rights activists, especially when they are in danger because of the work they do.

[17:36] Northup: I was hoping beyond reason that somehow my letter would work to set me free. Slave traders came on our boat to receive their human shipments. Some man came and took me and several others back to his slave pen, where we were required to wash ourselves thoroughly. There was customers who came and they checked our hands and our arms and our bodies, and examined our teeth. Like a jockey whose looking at a horse he’s about to purchase. And several of us were bought by a man known as William Ford. I was known as Platt, that’s the name they gave me down at the slave pen.

[18:23] Prum: When we arrived at the police station, I said to them in the little bit of English I knew, “I from Cambodia. I go back, go back, go home.” At that point, the police shook their heads. I missed my home and my family. I didn't even know whether I had a baby girl or boy. About an hour later, a man came to the police station and picked me up.

[18:54] Northup: Well we, we had left the steamboat about 25 miles back down river. And the slaves were walking alongside the wagon. They walked the 25 miles back to Mr. Ford’s plantation.

[19:12] Prum: So halfway down the road, another man came to get me. He handed money to the man who had picked me up from the police station. I knew they were selling me from the first time they exchanged money. He took me further along the road until it was about 3pm. Another car picked me up along the road. They handed money to the people who brought me out of the police station. They took me to the palm oil plantation.

[19:50] Northup: Mr. Ford, he owned a lumbering establishment four miles away. Nicest slave owner I’d ever met. He made me an apprentice to a carpenter he had hired. One morning, this carpenter came to where I was hard at work, having in his mind that he was going to start something between us. Now I had done everything he had asked me. He took out his whip and asked me to strip. I held my ground and I said, “No.” Well, he jumped on me, grabbed my neck and he tried to hit me. Well I caught his arm. And I wrestled him to the ground. My blood was boiling and I put my foot on his neck, and I grabbed his whip and I got to beating him. And he was screaming in pain. Until I finally caught myself and I realized what I was doing and then I dropped the whip and I got to running.

I ran towards the swamp. And I could hear the howls of the dogs getting closer and closer, closer. And I kept running until I reached the water where I thought I was safe until I looked out and I saw hundreds of snakes, and alligators, and wild pigs, and...well, honestly, I didn't know what to be more afraid of, the creatures in the swamp, the howls of the dogs, or the men chasing me. Finally I just, I ran all the way back to Mr. Ford’s house. You know, he had never lifted a hand at me. He never…and honestly, I had nowhere to go.

I desperately wanted to stay with Mr. Ford and live on his plantation but he found that I was of use to him rented out to others. So he lent my services to another cruel man who I worked with and toiled in his cotton fields for years. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t plan or dream of escaping.

[21:48] Narrator: Slaves who dreamed of freedom needed more than a plan, they needed a place to go. One place was a home just across the Ohio River in the town of Ripley, Ohio. A home whose lantern-lit windows could be seen from the slave state of Kentucky. That safe place was the home of Reverend John Rankin.

[22:09] Philip Hyldgaard: We have created a home, it's a shelter focused on sex trafficking. And so we're dealing with a high level of trauma and, you know, the immediate crisis situation that that person comes out with. Usually, you get that phone call at 4 in the morning on a Friday or something like that, a time when you least expect it or you never know. And so here's this person that suddenly needs your help and you have to provide that care.

[22:36] Narrator: Like Reverend Rankin, Phil has created a safe place, a refuge for those in need.

[22:42] Hyldgaard: It was the first person we got to help and this person was sent, you know, from another city. She would not refer to me as a man and they were asking her why. Well, she was like, "No, no, no. Phil is not a man. He's something else," because for her, she had never had a man in her life that was not abusive. We want to provide a place where they can, you know, be free and can decide what they want their hair to look like or whatnot. And it's amazing what those things actually do to a person, just the simple things.

[23:15] Narrator: Mr. Prum and the other slaves got a hold of some beer one evening. They decided to have a party and celebrate that, though they were still slaves, at least they weren’t on the fishing boats anymore. But things got out of hand and a fight broke out.

[23:39] Prum: My friend said, "Stop, stop!" One guy slashed my friend with a knife. I ran to help carry him. The guy also slashed at me with his knife right at my collar bone. At that moment, another man came and stabbed the guy. I was able to carry my friend away.

[23:52] Narrator: Mr. Prum was taken to a hospital by police where he was treated for his knife wounds. He was able to get his hands on a cell phone there and for the first time, contact officials in Cambodia.

[24:04] Prum: There was a man named Mr. Manfred Hornung. He worked for a non-profit organization called Licadho. He met with me in order to document everything that happened with the police. After he finished his work he said to me, “It won't be long until you will be able to go back to Cambodia, but it won't happen right away. We are not able to bypass any laws, but don't worry.”

[24:37] Northup: My master had hired a crew of carpenters to work on his house. One of the men, name was Saul Bass, had his own opinions all the time. You know, he would talk about how slavery was wrong. And my master and the others just laughed at him.

So after working alongside Mr. Bass for a few months, I finally got up the courage to tell him about my story. And he, he told me that my secret was safe with him. And then he said that we was to be friends for life. And I said, “Mr. Bass, can you write a letter for me?” And he said. “Yes.” He would devote his life to making sure I was free again. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

[25:27] Narrator: Like Saul Bass, Harriet Beecher Stowe used her writing to set people free. Instead of a letter, she wrote a novel called Uncle Tom’s Cabin that drew an authentic portrait of the life of a slave, impacting millions of people. Her book was a worldwide bestseller and reset the world’s understanding of slavery in America.

[25:50] Anne Gallagher: To get law enforcement on your side in relation to trafficking, really means changing their views on what a victim is, changing their views on the role that they have to very marginalize groups.

I work a lot with law enforcement, with police, and with prosecutorial and judicial agencies. And we’ve been now working with prosecutors to make sure that the work of these law enforcement bodies is dealt with appropriately up the criminal justice chain, and actually results in prosecutions.

[26:21] Narrator: Like Mrs. Stowe, Ann has an instrumental role in bringing a true understanding of human trafficking to the world.

[26:38] agher: And this is a change in mindset that I think is happening in southeast Asia, and in many other countries, but it’s going against a long tradition of thinking the other way, so it’s, we’re not there yet.

[26:41] Narrator: Another key player in the global community fighting human trafficking is Maria Grazia Giammarinaro. Maria started out wanting to be a judge after seeing corruption first hand in her own neighborhood. Her worldview grew, as did her role, and she found herself in the midst of a new challenge.

[27:00] Maria Grazia Giammarinaro: I wanted to understand, and I started to go with the street units, with the NGOs working with prostitutes, to help prostitutes. And suddenly when you realize what it is about, at least in my case, I decided this cannot be.

[27:18] Narrator: Like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Maria speaks to power all over the world to give a true picture of human trafficking.

[27:26] Giammarinaro: I have direct access to governments, and can discuss with the ministers in charge of anti-trafficking policy. We have to promote innovative interpretation of the law. We have to make these tools work on a much larger, larger scale.

[27:54] Northup: Well Mr. Bass sent the letter he, he said that we should hear something after four weeks. Well ten weeks passed and I didn’t hear a word. I lost hope again.

[28:10] Narrator: The police took Mr. Prum from the hospital to his arraignment, where he was coached by the authorities to lie to the judge. They told him he’d go home sooner if he confessed to being an illegal immigrant. Instead of telling the truth, he complied.

[28:25] Prum: I saw a shirt that was similar to the palm oil plantation owner's. A picture of stars...I do not know the ranking, but there were two stars on it. The same two stars I saw on the shirt of the plantation owner. I thought to myself, That man must be the head of the police. I realized that my long stay there was because the business of trafficking people involved the police.

[28:52] Narrator: The judge sentenced him to three months in jail for being an illegal immigrant. Mr. Prum was moved all over, jailed in five different institutions for more than seven months, making his sentence even longer than the judge required.

[29:05] Prum: The last place I was imprisoned was where they put people who are about to be released out of the country. I reached the date in which I was supposed to be released. The 15th of May, 2010 I would be able to go back to Cambodia.

[29:25] Northup: A Monday morning, we were out in the fields. I remember I saw a carriage. And the sheriff got out and he pointed to the carriage and he…he asked me if I knew the man that was in there. It was a man from my hometown. A lawyer. And he had come all the way from my hometown to free me. Seemed Mr. Bass’ letter had finally reached its destination.

[29:48] Prum: Before I left, I drew a picture of a boat. It was a picture of the very first boat in my story. I gave the drawing to Mr. Manfred. I drew that picture as a story of my life. I put it on a canvas and gave it to him to see if it would impact him.

[30:07] Northup: The sheriff asked me things to prove to him that I was telling the truth. Then he looked at me and he said, “Go ahead and throw down that sack. Your cotton picking days are over.”

[30:26] Narrator: One of the lawyers who helped Solomon Northup secure his freedom and prosecute the men who enslaved him was Salmon P Chase, a well-known politician from Ohio. Mr. Chase was one of several law enforcement officials who found creative ways to challenge the institution of slavery based on existing laws.

[30:45] Marcelo Colombo: This type of crime, you have to change your mind so as to judge it well, to be a good judge, to be a good prosecutor, because if you are not willing to do that, you are going to miss the point, the very, the most important point that is the victim, the life of a victim, and the living of that victims.

We have to make their voices louder because you are acting on behalf of these poor people, this victim who are not represented at all in the judicial system.

[31:15] Narrator: Like Marcelo, Salmon Chase became a voice for the most vulnerable. In fact, he built his entire law practice around freeing slaves and fighting slavery as an institution. As it did then, law enforcement plays a crucial role in fighting human trafficking today.

[31:32] Jeannette Richardson-Baars: The biggest challenge was to get out of my chair and take off my police hat and look at it as helping people, you know, be more sociable because a police officer is you have the law, you have somebody breaks the law, you lock them up, you convict them. It's very simple, actually. What I learned for myself was that in between, there's a lot of things that happen. You know, you cannot look at it as only a police officer. You have to look at it as somebody like a social worker. This is an area you need to be passionate about. If it's something you just do because it's part of your work, you will not make it.

[32:11] Narrator: Like Jeanette, Salmon Chase dedicated his life with abandon to the abolitionist movement. He found himself deeply entrenched in every aspect of the cause, participating in ways far beyond his conventional role with the law.

[32:29] Northup: It had only been three short weeks since I was free when I arrived home. A day later, I took the trip to where Anne and the children were staying. Margaret, my eldest, was the first to see me. She didn't even recognize me. She was only a small child when I last saw her. And now she had a boy with her, her boy, little Solomon, who she named after her not-forgotten father. And Elizabeth, my angel, and Anne, they came to me as I ran to them, and we hugged and we laughed and we cried in disbelief that we were seeing each other again.

[33:11] Prum: When I arrived home, my wife screamed and refused to take me back. Because I was away for so many years, she thought that I might have had a new woman. Only when the non-profit organization tried to contact me did she realize that I really was imprisoned. My oldest, who hadn't yet been born before I left, is now six years old.

[33:38] Northup: My family hadn’t forgotten about me. As alone as I felt, I wasn’t alone at all. Ever since that first boat when that sailor took an interest in my sadness, his letter had reached them. They just knew nothing on how to find me.

[33:54] Prum: I draw pictures now to show that my story is true. I wanted the people of Cambodia and everyone else to know. I wanted to share my story.

[34:08] Northup: So I finally set down what had happened to me. A local publisher even thought my twelve years as a slave was worth telling as a story. My hope, my eternal hope, is that anyone who reads my story, anyone at all, gets a true picture of the evil nature of slavery.

[34:32] Prum: I have a desire to help. I do not read or write well. But I can share stories or ideas. I want to help people all over the world understand. Number one, I want the traffickers to know that they are being challenged by people fighting human trafficking.

[34:55] Narrator: It took a community of people from all walks of life to end the institution of slavery in the United States. Even more so today, a global community is required to conquer what is perhaps the most important human rights crisis of our time. A fight like this requires something from all of us, bringing what we have to the table. Artists, lawyers, police officers, business people, and consumers can make a lasting impact. People working as individuals in a network that functions for freedom.

150 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, can be a new beginning, a fresh start of an abolitionist movement that will, once and for all, put an end to human trafficking as we know it and bring freedom to the world. Looking back into history, we see heroes. But heroes are just ordinary people, taking a courageous step in a single moment in time. History is made by people like you and me. Together, we can make slavery history.

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