HC Deb 26 February 1991 vol 186 cc797-806 3.31 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (by private notice)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the report that Iraqi troops have been ordered to withdraw from Kuwait.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, I have been asked to reply.

Last night, there was a report on Baghdad radio that Iraqi forces had been ordered to withdraw from Kuwait. In a broadcast this morning, Saddam Hussein appeared to confirm this. At the same time as this order was apparently given, however, two further Scud attacks were launched, one of which caused a large number of casualties among United States forces in Dhahran. At this time, we have no reliable information and evidence of a general Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. In many areas in southern Iraq and Kuwait, Iraqi forces are retreating, but as a result of allied military action. British and allied troops are still in contact with Iraqi forces.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago, what we require now is that Saddam Hussein publicly and explicitly accepts all the Security Council resolutions. To ensure the safety and security of our forces, we require all Iraqi forces in the theatre of operations, both those occupying Kuwait and those supporting the occupation, to abandon their weapons and equipment and withdraw. Otherwise, they will continue to be treated as hostile.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that, if Saddam Hussein had, on 2 August, made the announcement that he has belatedly made today, he would have prevented loss of life and suffering among Kuwaitis, in the coalition forces, and, not least, among the people of Iraq whom he has victimised? Does he also agree that the sooner the war ends the better for everyone, and that the war can end as soon as necessary conditions have been fulfilled?

Those conditions include full and unequivocal acceptance by Saddam Hussein of all 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions.; proper supervision arrangements for the Iraqi withdrawal, with Iraqis leaving behind arms and equipment that could enable attacks to be made on coalition forces and possession of which might lead members of the coalition forces, in the interests of their own safety, to fire upon retreating Iraqis; full disclosure on the spot to coalition forces of all minefields and other defence systems that could cause loss of life to our service men and women; a clear and verifiable commitment not to launch any further Scud missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, Israel or any other neighbouring countries; release of all coalition prisoners of war and of Kuwaiti detainees, and immediate access to our prisoners of war by the International Red Cross.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the coalition war aims have not changed and remain as stated in the House last Thursday by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, when he said that our objectives are the full and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the restoration of the legitimate Government of that country and the restoration of peace and security in the region."—[Official Report, 21 February 1991; Vol. 186, c. 455.]— but that we do not intend to occupy Iraq, we do not intend to change the borders, and we do not wish the destruction of its economy?

Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute to our armed forces, whose courage and professionalism have brought about this precipitate collapse of Saddam Hussein? Does he agree that, now that Saddam Hussein has been forced to abandon his hypocritical attempt to link the Kuwait issue with the Palestine issue, the path is open to deal with the Palestine issue? Does he also agree that the best way to build on what our forces have achieved is now to turn our hand to a comprehensive settlement, under United Nations auspices, of all the problems of the middle east?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that the whole House will strongly support what he has said. I can confirm his first point straight away—that, if Saddam Hussein had been prepared on 2 August to fulfil the assurances that he appears to be giving now, an awful lot of pain, grief and suffering would have been avoided. In his supplementary questions the right hon. Gentleman correctly drew out the fact that, having involved Kuwait, the coalition and the world in all the pain and suffering, the terms now for Saddam Hussein's successful withdrawal from Kuwait and for the successful ending of the conflict are not the same as they would have been on 2 August if he had had the sense to accept them then.

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said about our armed forces. Before coming to the House, I spoke to General de la Billiere, who confirmed to me the excellent spirit and commitment with which our forces are carrying forward the campaign. I was especially struck by one of his comments, that many of the prisoners who are now being taken have not had any food for six days. He commented on their pleasure at being captured and at having some prospect of reasonable treatment in captivity, which they have certainly never had under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Could my right hon. Friend pass on to our armed forces the indebtedness of the whole House for their courage, effectiveness and efficiency over the last few weeks, without which we would not have arrived at the present relatively improved position? Now that we are looking from Kuwait to peace and security within the region, can we also look to other United Nations resolutions, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, and see to it also, now that we are ending the occupation of Kuwait, that other occupations in the region are likewise addressed?

Mr. King

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about the courage and commitment of our forces and about seeking a solution for other territories. Perhaps I could now clarify the point raised by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about any change in the war aims. I apologise for not addressing that in my reply to him. There is no change in the war aims, and I can confirm to the House that we have no territorial ambitions. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) also addressed that point to me yesterday. I should like to make it absolutely clear that we do not seek to acquire the territory of Iraq. It is a military necessity that we have to proceed through Iraq for the liberation of Kuwait. It may well be that, in the initial aftermath of this activity, we shall need to ensure the security of Kuwait in some way, but we have no long-term territorial ambitions. We seek no change in borders. I give the House that assurance.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, as the Prime Minister and others have said in the House, time and again, that, if Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, the war would end and, as an order to the Iraqi troops to withdraw has now been given, it is wrong to continue the brutal savagery of warfare on both sides——

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has the absolute right to express his view.

Mr. Benn

—including air raids on Baghdad this morning? Does he agree that millions of people in the world——

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. As the House well knows, this is a place where every hon. Member has freedom of speech.

Mr. Benn

Millions of people in the world want the killing to stop now, and there is no United Nations authority for the terms which the Secretary of State announced today. Indeed, the Security Council was not even allowed to discuss the Soviet peace proposals before the American ultimatum was issued last Friday.

Mr. King

One of the tragic things about the past months of this awful conflict has been the total inability of the right hon. Gentleman to see things in any balanced way. As he knows perfectly well, the allied campaign for the liberation of Kuwait has been conducted at all times with the greatest commitment to minimising civilian casualties. He will know that, for such a degree of conflict, that has been achieved in a remarkable way. He will know, because he can see it if he looks at any of the pictures, the readiness and happiness of the Iraqi soldiers to surrender, give themselves up and have some prospect of decent treatment. He knows perfectly well that the place where the conflict, suffering, killing and murdering is taking place is not at the front line, where Iraqi forces are surrendering readily, but in Kuwait, against the defenceless citizens who have been so disgracefully treated.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

When my right hon. Friend mentions those appalling atrocities committed in Kuwait, does he also agree that it must be an aim of the United Nations forces that any Iraqi individuals or units which have been responsible for barbarous behaviour must be captured and brought to trial, or at least have their crimes thoroughly investigated, before they are allowed to return to Iraq? Will my right hon. Friend endorse that?

Mr. King

I can assure my right hon. Friend that that point is very much in the minds of the military commanders in the area. We have already warned every Iraqi by leaflets and other methods of the personal responsibility that he bears under international law. We are making every effort to ensure that evidence will be collected about any atrocity or outrage committed. I can say, without disclosing any military secret or operations, that there is a major effort to ensure that those who have committed atrocities in Kuwait City have the least chance of getting away before evidence can be gathered against them.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the natural desire both inside and outside the House for an early end to hostilities should not be allowed to obscure the unsatisfactory nature of the offer to withdraw which Saddam Hussein has made? Does he further agree that, if any offer were accepted which constituted less than the full implementation of all the United Nations resolutions, the likelihood of a further outbreak of hostilities in due course would be considerable?

Mr. King

I very much agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. Those who can see this in any balanced way would think it absolutely incredible, after the aggression that has been committed and the outrages and behaviour that we have seen, if we merely stood back and allowed Iraqi forces and all their equipments and armaments to pass in review order down the road so that they could regroup and possibly commit exactly the same aggression again.

Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

Bearing in mind the suffering, the torture, the rape and the murder for which Saddam Hussein and his army of occupation have been responsible, as well as the casualties that he has inflicted on Israel and the allied forces, is it not wholly unacceptable even to consider any possibility of his army of occupation, including the Republican Guard, in the Kuwaiti theatre of operations being allowed to leave before they have fully surrendered to the allies?

Mr. King

The words of my hon. Friend are, I am afraid, all too accurate about all the evidence that we have of what has been happening in Kuwait and in Kuwait City. The news that we are receiving about what has been happening to Kuwaitis at the hands of Iraqi soldiers and the Iraqi military is extremely distressing. It is for that reason that we have taken such a strong view. We have found it necessary to conduct a campaign which we did not seek. We are not now going to leave it unfinished. We will see Kuwait liberated; we will see that Kuwait stays liberated.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Although I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, will the Secretary of State assure us that, if the Security Council requests it or, from Baghdad, Saddam Hussein accepts entirely the 12 United Nations resolutions, the coalition forces will immediately give access to the international organisations which would be the most appropriate bodies to carry out the functions that will be required? For instance, the International Committee of the Red Cross is the most appropriate organisation to deal with prisoners of war. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the emphasis placed by the Government on the United Nations resolutions will continue, so that young lives and the civilian lives will not have been lost for nothing and that we will soon see the United Nations Security Council sitting down to discuss a meaningful set of proposals that would result in a comprehensive middle east peace?

Mr. King

On the first point, in relation to the International Committee of the Red Cross, we will honour our obligations entirely. Right hon. and hon. Members have seen pictures of the way in which we are trying to deal humanely with prisoners. We have seen pathetic pictures on television of the gratitude clearly shown by the Iraqis for the treatment, which is not what they would have expected to get from their own punishment squads who lay behind them. We will give full access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

If Saddam Hussein wishes to see an end to the conflict, one of our requirements is that we have immediate access through the Red Cross to our prisoners of war. We want their names; we want to know who they are. We want to give reassurance to their families that they are still alive—knowledge which, sadly, is still lacking for many of them. On the further point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made our position very clear; we wish to see the conflict settled and the aggression ended, so that we may address the other serious issues that need to be addressed in the area.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the violent, bellicose and lying language used by President Saddam in his broadcast to the people of Iraq negates and rebuts his alleged acceptance of the Soviet peace proposals, and sows the seeds of further aggression in the Gulf? Will he convey to the relatives of the American soldiers killed in the Scud attack yesterday, at the time that President Saddam was supposed to be making peace offers, the sympathy of the people of the United Kingdom, bearing in mind the heavy burden that the American forces are bearing in the Gulf?

Mr. King

On the latter point, I know that the whole House will share the feelings that the hon. Member has expressed about the tragic, unlucky accident with the Scud warhead last night and the severe suffering of the American forces. He is right to draw attention to the unreliability of Saddam Hussein. I would not dream of recommending to the House or to anybody else that they accept any speech of Saddam Hussein's at face value. From their experience of dealing with him, there are not many Iranians or many other Arabs either who would do that. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the reason we are in a difficult position now is that Saddam Hussein lied directly to the King of Saudi Arabia and to the President of Egypt.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

In paying tribute to all the allied troops and ancillary services, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to agree that we have a responsibility to ensure that no allied lives will have been, or may be, lost in vain? In that context, can he confirm that a detailed analysis of the speech by Saddam Hussein shows that it was his clear intention to regroup and return to the battle at a future date? Will he assure the House that no settlement will allow that facility, bearing in mind the fact that the long-term hopes for peace in the region are based on him never being given that opportunity?

Mr. King

I am grateful for what the hon. Lady says. She is precisely right in her reading of that speech. We shall not expose any of our forces—as she knows, many young Scots are among the British forces in the Gulf—to unnecessary risk.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week, on behalf of the all-party human rights group in the House, I took evidence from witnesses from Kuwait who detailed the most horrific crimes, starting with the invasion at the beginning and apparently continuing now? Is any effort being made by our people on the spot to record those details, in conjunction possibly with the Kuwaiti authorities, so that those responsible can be brought to account at the appropriate time?

Mr. King

I do indeed know of the evidence on the occasion to which my right hon. Friend refers, and I understand that much of the evidence was extremely distressing. I assure him that there is great determination among the allies, the Kuwaiti authorities and the Kuwaiti resistance to try to ensure that any evidence that can be brought is brought and that those who may have been responsible for perpetrating those crimes are not able in the next few hours to slip away.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to early-day motion 533 entitled "The Tory Party and Saddam Hussein"? It points out that, of the 31 motions on the Order Paper critical of Saddam Hussein and what he has done to his own people and others in the region, only one motion was tabled by a Conservative.

Under those circumstances, Labour Members need no lectures about the evil of Saddam Hussein from incompetent unimaginative and hypocritical Ministers. When the war is over, will the British Government be announcing an arms embargo to the middle east to make sure that we do not create another Saddam Hussein whom our brave troops will then have to move on and disarm?

Mr. King

My understanding—I will withdraw if I have it wrong—

Mr. Banks

The right hon. Gentleman gets most things wrong.—

Mr. King

—is that the hon. Gentleman voted against every motion in support of resolute action against Saddam Hussein. The one voice that we need to go from this House at this time to our forces engaged in the challenging task to which we have asked them to put their hand is the voice of support from us all for the importance of the work that they are doing.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend take every step to ensure that first the prisoners, for whom we all feel extremely sorry, and then the whole population of Iraq, are made aware of the foul nature of the bestial crimes committed by this tyrant against their Arab brethren?

Mr. King

We have our suspicions, but in the days ahead we may well discover a good deal more—even worse than some of the things to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) referred. I do not want to say more now, but some of the information coming through to us is very grave indeed.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The whole House should be grateful to the service men of all the nations of the coalition who have achieved the liberation of the small country of Kuwait. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we now owe it, as politicians, to those service men to ensure that we achieve a lasting peace, which must mean a fair settlement for the Iraqi people and—this is of extreme importance—include the settlement of the other outstanding United Nations resolutions concerning the region and affecting Palestine?

Mr. King

The first thing that we need to do, having asked our forces to risk their lives in this conflict, is to ensure the right outcome. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush today issued a statement about the basis on which the conflict can be settled. Nobody wants the conflict to go on for any longer than necessary, but we have a duty to our forces to see that the terms on which it is settled are fair and safe for them. As soon as we have settled this conflict, we can address other issues.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The Government's and the coalition's planning and handling of the war effort have been superb, largely due to the courage, brilliance and professionalism of our troops. Does the coalition have a plan for the immediate handling of the peace and, if so, could someone tell us what it is?

Mr. King

Considerable work is being done. If the peace to which my hon. and learned Friend refers is peace in Kuwait, that of course has very much concerned the Government of Kuwait. It will be a challenging task, and while much preparatory work has been done, there is no question but that the task has been made even more difficult by the increasing reports of damage. My hon. and learned Friend may have heard this morning one reporter who said that it is quite clear that the main activity in the last days of the Iraqi forces has been to do as much damage as they can to Kuwait and very little to conduct a proper defence.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the Secretary of State accept that, if civilian and military lives, including the lives of young British service personnel, are to be saved, the war must be brought to an early and orderly end, with the best possible lines of communication between politicians of many countries and military commanders on the ground? In that context, can the Secretary of State say how and when the United Nations will be given direct responsibility for arranging an orderly withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, monitoring and supervising the ceasefire that will follow, and setting about the awesome agenda for bringing durable peace and stability to the region?

Mr. King

Everybody wants to see the earliest possible resolution of this conflict and an end to fighting. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out as clearly as he could, and why I have repeated, the basis on which that can be achieved. The hon. Gentleman may know that, just a few minutes ago, the President of the United States spelled out exactly the same conditions as part of the coalition agreement. The United Nations is not in Kuwait or in the theatre of operations, but we are acting under its authority. It is against that background that we have to find the earliest and safest basis on which this conflict can be ended.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about saving the lives of young men. We have a duty to those young men to see that we conclude this matter on a safe, sound and secure basis for the future. The biggest betrayal would be to launch these young men into the conflict and ask them to risk their lives and then to let it end in some premature or fudged way which meant that the job had not been properly done.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the pathetic state of the Iraqi prisoners of war. Does he consider that the dignity, humanity and restraint being shown by allied troops towards those prisoners, which is in direct contrast to the way in which allied prisoners have been treated, not only is right in itself but will be an important and useful factor in winning the peace when the war is over?

Mr. King

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who mentions one of the matters that may be of lasting benefit to relationships in the area. There has been much propaganda, and anyone who knows anything about the regime of Saddam Hussein over the years knows the power of state propaganda. A considerable number of his Iraqi forces now recognise for what they are the many lies that have been told about the allied forces.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

The Secretary of State will recall that, some weeks ago, he paid tribute to the Territorial Army—in particular, the Royal Army Medical Corps, one of whose young nurses is a constituent of mine. Her mother informs me that the electricity board has said that, despite the fact that because her daughter is in the Gulf and her house is unoccupied, standing charges will still be included on her account. If that nurse remains in the Gulf for long enough, her electricity could be cut off. Surely that is a shameful way for a national utility to treat people who were the first to volunteer in response to this country's call.

Mr. King

I do not think that there is the slightest risk of such people having their electricity cut off in their absence. However, I take note of the hon. Gentleman's point. The whole country has shown its support for our forces. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the reserve forces and the way in which so many of them—every one of them, I think that I am right in saying, a volunteer—have willingly gone to serve in the Gulf in support of our forces.

Several Hon. Members


Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Not yet.

This is a private notice question. There are 23 groups of amendments in the following Bill but, in view of the importance of the matter, I will allow three more questions from each side. I call first Mr. Soames.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

In view of the great difficulties in dealing with someone as dishonest and irrational as Saddam Hussein, may I suggest that General Schwarzkopf should offer the senior Iraqi commander in the field a full instrument of unconditional surrender, appended to which should be full details of the mining and booby-trapping of Kuwait? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if that were to be accepted, it would spare a great deal of anxiety and further loss of life?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend raises serious points. There are real difficulties about the trustworthiness of Saddam Hussein and his powers to communicate with his forces. We are giving close attention to what might be the right vehicle for such communications. I shall bear in mind by hon. Friend's suggestion.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the fair tone of the Secretary of State's statement, but does he agree that those who talk about trusting Saddam Hussein's words about returning to Iraq would not have many friends in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, where the people are aware of a similar statement when Saddam Hussein said that he would not be invading Kuwait?

What plans are afoot for the future? People talk about the middle east settlement, but, if Saddam Hussein regroups with his forces in Iraq, what about the Gulf settlement? When the Prime Minister meets President Gorbachev next week, will he ask what terms and conditions have been reached with the Russians for the future stability of the area and for reparations to Kuwait after the ravages of the war?

Mr. King

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments and will no doubt bear them in mind. The basis on which we can ensure security and stability in the area will depend on how the conflict ends, but the success of the coalition forces has given the area a much better prospect of a more stable and less aggressive approach from Iraq in future.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

No doubt history will show for how much the humane world has to thank Britain, and in particular my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, for the resolve that he has been shown in dealing with this dictator. In view of what Saddam Hussein was saying to his people last night, is it not important that he should in no way be able to show any kind of victory?

Mr. King

When Kuwait is liberated and evidence of what has been authorised in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein becomes apparent, the world will realise the force of what my hon. Friend says. The situation is not yet finalised, but we have all seen enough to know the rightness of the decision to stand firm, to work as a coalition, to seek the widest possible international support for the action and not to find some way out, some deal of some sort, some negotiation halfway through this terrible business that has lasted for all these months.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

Now that you have called me and the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), Mr. Speaker, it has become the "Little and Large" show. Before 2 August last year, a number of British children were illegally abducted and taken to Kuwait, and they have remained there during the hostilities. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that we shall try to identify and locate these British children as soon as possible, so that their mothers in this country will hopefully learn that they are okay and have not been damaged in any way by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait?

Secondly, having located the children, will the right hon. Gentleman make every possible effort to have them returned to their mothers in Britain, because they were illegally abducted from the United Kingdom by Kuwaiti citizens, who had no right to take them there in the first place? Given that we have made so many sacrifices to free the people of Kuwait, the least that they can do is send back our children who have been illegally abducted.

Mr. King

Obviously I cannot comment on the detail, but I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. Once Kuwait is liberated, there will be a chance for the normal processes of international law to reassert themselves upon such matters.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

As further evidence that the so-called Iraqi pull-out may be nothing more than a cynical manoeuvre in bad faith, will my right hon. Friend take careful note of today's reports that the Iraqi army has been rounding up significant numbers of young Kuwaitis, presumably to take them as hostages or, even worse, for the sort of atrocities that my right hon. Friend hinted at? Is it not out of the question that we should discuss a ceasefire as long as such bestial actions continue?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I know that he knows the area well and will have his own sources, which tend to confirm the extremely distressing information which is coming through about that behaviour. That is why, as he rightly says, "withdrawal" is another word for regrouping in certain circumstances and is a technique and a trick that Saddam Hussein used against the Iranians to considerable effect. He took advantage of prolonging discussions on a possible ceasefire to launch a new attack and to capture thousands of Iranian prisoners of war during the Iran-Iraq war, and we shall not fall into that trap.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Will the Secretary of State make it clear—I am sure that it was inadvertent—that Saddam Hussein did not unequivocally accept the United Nations resolutions in the speech that was broadcast this morning? Will he further make it clear, in the absence of access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to our prisoners of war who are being held by Iraq, that Saddam Hussein will be held personally responsible for their safety?

Mr. King

In case I gave any impression that I thought that Saddam Hussein had unequivocally accepted, I am glad to take this opportunity to make it clear that he did no such thing; I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is a pretty depressing experience trying to read Saddam Hussein's speeches and to work our what on earth they do mean, but it is quite clear that they do not mean that. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, implied within the speech is a very sinister threat indeed—to regroup and to seek to have another go.

On the wider issue, we have made our position very clear. People are individually responsible for their actions. There is a worrying and increasing roll of evidence of some of the things that have happened, and they will need to be given careful attention.

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