Tag Archives: violence

3rd Anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide

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Article by Barbora Mrazova, 2nd year BA International Relations at KCL, currently volunteer with the STEP-IN project in Iraq

3rd of August is a sad day for all Yazidis, especially those that live in northern Iraq. Also, for all of us, who watch them remembering it. Three years ago, a Yazidi genocide by the Islamic State happened with the international community standing by. Before Yazidi people suffered 72 genocides – but this was the first one in the 21st century.

 Yazidis are a minority group, mostly living in Northern Iraq. Before the genocide on August 3rd, 2014, many Yazidis were living around the Sinjar mountain east of Mosul. Some in the surrounding villages and some in the Sinjar city. They were forced to flee their homes after ISIS started to take over their territories and there was no one left to protect these defenseless people.

 As a result, they ran onto the Sinjar mountain. People were running (the majority of Yazidis don’t have a car) and behind them ISIS was chasing them on Toyotas. They had no other option, since ISIS surrounded the mountain from all sides. For a few long days, they were without water, food, shelter, or another set of clothes. US, UK, and Australia made some emergency airdrops of canned food and water to people trapped on the Sinjar mountain, but it was too little and too late. Some never accessed these airdrops.

 Everyone was desperate. First of all, from dehydration and hunger but also because there was no access to news and they did not know what is actually going on around the mountain. Then, people started to receive messages, that ISIS is taking women and children to captivity and executing men right on the spot.

 On August 5, 2014 Vian Dakhil, Iraqi Kurdish MP, delivered a speech in the Iraqi parliament on behalf of the Yazidis that were trapped on the Sinjar mountain. She said: “I beg you, Mr. Speaker, my people are being slaughtered… For the past 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged on mountain Sinjar without food or water. They are dying… Our women are being taken captive and sold on the slave-market… Stop this massacre.” After this very emotional speech, full of tears, Dakhil almost collapsed. Nevertheless, she brought the international attention to the terrible atrocities that were carried out by the hands of Islamic State on Yazidis.

 This genocide resulted in a huge number of deaths and even greater number of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). Up to this day, some Yazidis have already returned to their destroyed homes, but the majority is staying in camps like Dawoodyia or Cabartoo located in Kurdistan region of Iraq.

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Children of Dawoodyia camp, waiting until the exhibition will start. 

Today, on August 3, 2017, STEP-IN contributed with a small exhibition to a commemorate day of the genocide in Dawoodyia camp. For us in STEP-IN, it was one of the saddest experiences from our time in Iraq. This feeling of powerlessness to help people that came was crushing. Especially when we have seen those, whose personal stories we know. It was very hard to see little children with posters in their hands, on which there were pictures of mass graves with bodies of their families, neighbors and friends from their villages posted by ISIS on social media. Also, they had printed pictures with faces of those men that were killed right on the spot by ISIS, or even a picture of parents holding their beheaded daughter.

There are no words to describe what Yazidi people went through. We cannot understand their pain when they remember the day of the genocide. We can only try.

 During the exhibition, I wanted to do a short interview with Mukhtar (the leader of the people) of Dawoodyia camp. He tried very hard to at least explain in a few sentences what happened on this day. But then tears started to run down his face. He apologized but could not continue. One of our employees tried to finish but the same repeated. The memories are still too painful. Yazidi people suffered too much.

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Young girl holding a flag of Kurdistan and wearing a head bandana with the date of the genocide during the exhibition

We ask ourselves: What can we do for them? Not much. But what we can do, we will. STEP-IN’s mission right now, among others, is to provide primary healthcare for people living in Dawoodyia camp. We are aware, that this is only a drop in the sea, but if we can help to at least a few people, we will continue to do so.

It does not matter whether we are Christians, Muslims or Yazidis, Iraqis or Europeans. We are all humans. Therefore, we must act human and help each other as much as we can, regardless of our differences.

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A photo from the exhibition in Dawoodyia camp, Kurdish part of Iraq

 

 

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A violent peace: El Salvador 25 years on

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Carly Greenfield is a second year International Relations student with an interest in non-wartime violence, gender theory, and organized crime, especially in Latin America.

El Salvador, a state of little more than 6 million people, often falls below the radar in the 21st century. However, 25 years ago, El Salvador was ending a 12-year civil war that had ushered it into a violent Cold War paradigm and brought global media attention along with it. Today, El Salvador is the battleground for deadly gang warfare and a hardened state presence. While the peace deal of 1992 ensured an end to the conflict, Salvadorans have not been able to cultivate a peaceful society. In 2015, San Salvador hosted the third highest murder rate in the world: with its population hovering around 1.7 million, almost a third of all Salvadorans have been forced to make this a part of their daily lives. The peace deal failed to create a peaceful state due to an inability to remedy the conflict’s roots of inequality and injustice, failure to persecute military members following the deal, and a failure to address the trauma experienced by local communities. Along with a lack of political will, El Salvador has faced the same abject poverty as its neighbor states and extreme levels of emigration towards the United States (US), leading to an excess in crime rates.

The civil war was fought between the Government of El Salvador and Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), but its roots lay much further back in El Salvador’s history. Like most of Latin America, Spain dominated El Salvador for over 300 years until its full independence in 1838. This laid down a system built around natural goods such as indigo and sugarcane and the need for a peasant population to farm it. Following independence, as in the colonial period, a group of elites held almost all of the wealth in the country. In the 19th century, they amassed control of the economy through the farming of a new crop: coffee. Economic disparity grew and in the 20th century, peasant revolts became increasingly common, leading to brutal crackdowns by the government. As El Salvador swung from one military dictatorship to the next and social mobility stayed practically impossible, the growth of leftist guerrilla movements was expected. Like in neighboring states Nicaragua and Guatemala, the 1970s and 1980s became ground zero for revolutionary politics.

El Salvador’s civil war lasted from 1980 to 1992, leaving over 75,000 people dead and thousands more displaced from their homes. It was notorious for death squads, the use of child soldiers, and various other human rights violations. Thousands had fled to neighboring countries, chief among them the United States. The US, who had backed the Salvadoran government during the war, would play a key part in both the peace deal and its ensuing breakdown. Following the 1989 Jesuit massacre, and the US no longer supplying the government with weapons but rather calling for an end to the conflict, the government and FMLN brokered a peace deal. Although the peace deal succeeded in ending the violent civil war and incorporating FMLN into the political system, economic goals of the peace agreement were less successful. Along with this, a lack of funding for government programs reincorporating child soldiers or supporting communities most affected by the atrocities kept areas from healing.

Within the peace accord, several agreements have been breached or not followed closely— Chapter 1, Armed Forces, facing the most challenges. Point 5, End to Impunity, gave the Commission on the Truth power to end impunity for armed actors involved in human rights abuses. However, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed an amnesty law that protected all military and guerrilla forces from prosecution in 1993, undercutting the Commission on the Truth, leaving many victims without anyone to hold to account. To this end, the entrance of the FMLN into the president’s office in 2009 led to the removal of the blanket amnesty law, yet still few cases have been prosecuted. Now, at the 25th anniversary, prosecutions are becoming less and less likely, meaning the justice side of the conflict remains unfulfilled, keeping the country from experiencing total peace. With Point 6 of Chapter 1, Public Security Forces, the government has loosened the regulations set out in the peace accord. While the peace accord set about creating a police force controlled by civilian authorities, rather than allowing the military to conduct the policing within El Salvador, the government has instead militarized its police. Though the primary role of the national civil police was shaped around safeguarding peace, anti-gang policies have been more offensive than defensive in nature. In the first decade of the 2000s, El Salvador’s leadership developed the manu duro policy (iron fist). President Antonio Saca brought more force to the program and labeled it super mano duro. These policies led to increased police presence in El Salvador along with heavier weapons and the legal ability to take harsh methods against suspected gang members, therein beginning to blur the line carefully set out by the peace accords. In 2015, the government labeled street gangs as terrorist organization— a step that proponents said was fitting, given how the gangs terrorize the local population and seek to undermine the government. What this decision also does, however, is expand police rights to round up any person with a gang-related tattoo, as being a member of a gang is now illegal. Searches and raids rose and stories began to crop up of police abuse and overzealousness, but few arrests were made inside the police force. The government’s ability to seek justice as it sees fit is reminiscent of the civil war, making some civil society activists uncomfortable. As many gangs are most active in poor neighborhoods, it is those people who are most affected by gang violence and extortion and government abuse, rekindling the divide between the poor and the heavily armed police.

Point 11 called for the suspension of forcible recruitment: children disappeared throughout the conflict and many were coerced or forced into fighting, leaving a generation with few skills outside of war. While the government has taken steps to protect children, the gangs recruit boys as young as 10 to serve as lookouts and informants throughout the country. Recruitment into a street gang should be treated as a similar crime to that named in the peace accord since most of the gang members are young and die early. The government’s inability to protect its youth shows that the peace accord has not been implemented in its entire scope, made more acute due to a lack of finances.

The El Salvador peace deal, like many other peace deals, focused on resolving the conflict at hand and less with the structural issues going on inside El Salvador. Still, Chapter 5 sought to answer “the agrarian problem.” Land reform occurred to give workers more access to the wealth being gained from the earth they till and more peasants were able to buy land. Still, wages did not rise substantially, and an elite few continue to amass a critical amount of the wealth. The space left between peace accords and truth commissions following conflict leaves substantial room for economic structures to remain in place even while they are often a focal point of the conflict. The failure of the government to set significant reforms in place means that many Salvadorans face similar economic pressures as those prior to the civil war.

It would be incorrect to claim, however, that El Salvador is wholly responsible for its homicide rate or gang epidemic. The role of the US in Salvadoran politics was a main hindrance to peace within the state during the civil war, and its support of the original peace deal was mainly in pursuit of its own national interest. Now, as the international community looks to how El Salvador can lower its homicide rate, it should really be analyzing US immigration policy. The practices that gangs employ have their origins in Los Angeles, not in Soyapongo.

Thousands of Salvadorans escaped the country during the civil war, particularly young men avoiding being brought in to fight. Many fled to the US, albeit without the proper documentation, and settled in Los Angeles. The adolescents noticed the street culture already prevalent in the city at the time, particularly the gang rivalry between the Bloods and the Crips. This gave birth to la Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, and one of the main gangs in El Salvador today. While the gang was formed in Los Angeles, it ended up back in El Salvador: the US government, cracking down on illegal immigration, deported thousands of Salvadorans back to El Salvador following the peace accord. Since the US prioritizes deporting those with criminal records, gang members were the perfect example of what the government wanted to get out of the country. So although the young men were raised in American streets, the US took no responsibility for their behavior, and gang culture was exported to El Salvador along with the people. Since most of these men had little connection to El Salvador, they were difficult to integrate, notwithstanding all of the other issues that the country was facing. US foreign policy towards El Salvador, laden with hypocrisy for decades, has only furthered the destabilization of the small country. By only understanding the civil war through the Cold War, it supported brutal government tactics and furthered the endless bloodshed. The deportation of young gang members and the separation of families across borders continue to put Salvadorans at risk. Furthermore, when the US saw an increase in unaccompanied minors entering the US in 2014, they were careful not to label them refugees, even though they were escaping the deadliest region outside of a warzone. As El Salvador continues to grapple with its rival gangs, the US continues its deadly deportation policy.

What does this all mean, in the context of a 25 year-old peace deal? Small states do not have full agency in their policymaking if they are not afforded it by larger states, such as in the US-El Salvador relationship. The violence in El Salvador should also serve as a reminder of the importance of financial power to put in place post-conflict programs that emphasize reintegration, community building, and job opportunities. Impunity serves no one but those who committed the crimes, even if it is being done in the name of healing and moving on. Furthermore, governments must conduct their own commissions to reform long-established obstacles: while truth commissions may bring victims’ voices to light, and peace accords disarm the opposition, there continues to be no exact model for addressing the long-term grievances of oppressed groups, especially in postcolonial states. The peace accord may have ended the civil war, but it was unable to provide stability or lead to civil society involvement that could have created a peace that meant more than simply the absence of war.

 

Sources:

http://www.seguridadjusticiaypaz.org.mx/biblioteca/prensa/send/6-prensa/230-caracas-venezuela-es-la-ciudad-mas-violenta-del-mundo 

http://www.blog.rielcano.org/ciudades-violentas-sin-necesidad-de-guerras/#comments 

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/es.html 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/29/el-salvador-police-arrest-77-raids-powerful-ms13-gang 

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/04/adam-hinton-el-salvador-ms-13-gangs-prison-portraits 

http://cja.org/where-we-work/el-salvador/ 

http://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/SV_920116_ChapultepecAgreement.pdf 

http://www.usip.org/publications/truth-commission-el-salvador 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/18/nayib-bukele-san-salvador-mayor-save-worlds-most-violent-city 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGG7lRJJkJk 

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/11/arts/television/11bull.html 

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1920741,00.html 

http://www.csmonitor.com/1996/1105/110596.intl.intl.1.html 

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2012/0425/Building-on-success-How-El-Salvador-is-trying-to-keep-gang-violence-down

 

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The Colombian Peace Process: Understanding the “NO” Vote

by Sofia Liemann Escobar, a second year War Studies student from Colombia. She is currently the treasurer of the KCL Latin American Society. Her main interests include security, Latin America and organised crime.

 

 

“True peace is not merely the absence of war; it is the presence of justice”

– Jane Addams, 1931 Nobel prize winner

 

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“Without justice, there is no peace”

 

On the 2nd of October, Colombians will be deciding if they support the agreement that has been reached between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government. To many outsiders it is hard to understand why anyone could reject the agreements that as President Santos has proclaimed, will bring “a sustainable and durable peace” to Colombia. However, if they were to look closer to what is being agreed upon they might begin to understand why many Colombians are skeptical and against the proposed 297-page long agreement.

 

The FARC are a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla that have been involved in a conflict with the Colombian government since 1964. Whist their aim has been to topple the government to impose a communist regime, their means to accomplish this, including its financing, has made them criminals. They are responsible for 70% of Colombia’s cocaine production, which amounts to 40% of the world’s production [1]. In addition, they have been using other criminal methods such as kidnappings, extortions and illegal mining to finance their operations. The methods that they have used against soldiers, government officials and civilians have labelled them as terrorists. They have used bombs and mines to kill and terrorize innocent civilians. They are also responsible for the forced recruitment and use of child soldiers in the conflict, and have committed sexual crimes against women and young girls who were forcibly taken away from their homes. Despite the amount of harm, which they have brought to Colombia, they only represent around 0.03% [2] of the population.

 

This agreement that has been under negotiation for over 4 years in Havana has generated hope for peace amongst many Colombians, whilst creating serious concerns to others. For many people abroad the news of an agreement being reached on the 25th of August created great anticipation, thus making it hard to understand why anyone would have issues with it. When taking a closer look, the huge concessions that were made in favour of FARC become evident, and the much-awaited peace becomes questionable. Each Colombian has their own concern regarding the agreement depending on their values and fears. People with low incomes are generally upset that the government will pay FARC to demobilise, when they haven’t received any support from the government despite them being honest citizens. Others are concerned that those who have committed serious crimes will be eligible for appointment in public service. Whilst others are frustrated that the Colombian government will be imposing taxes to implement the agreements, whereas FARC are not required to give up their criminally earned fortune. There are many more issues with the agreement, but there is one in particular that has been very controversial: justice, or the lack thereof, especially in the cases of crimes against humanity.

 

Even though it is expected that in peace processes there is a more lenient approach to justice, it does not mean that the perpetrators of serious crimes should not go to jail, even for a reduced sentence. The government has claimed that there will be no amnesty and pardon for those who committed crimes against humanity. According to the agreements, if the perpetrators confess the crime, they get an “alternative sentence”. The agreement is ambiguous with what the sentence is, but clarifies that under no circumstance would it be jail or prison. However, if they don’t tell the truth, they go to jail for 20 years, and if they speak up at the last minute they get 8 years (article 60)[3]. The problem with this approach is that the “alternative sentence” is not a proportional punishment for the crimes they have committed. The danger in this agreement is that those who are actually innocent can end up going to jail if they don’t “tell the truth”, and those who are guilty of massacres, bombings, kidnappings, child-soldier recruitment, rape and extortion will get to confess their crimes and get awarded essentially a jail-free card. Human Rights Watch has highlighted that this agreement will “guarantee impunity for those responsible of crimes against humanity”[4]. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch has denounced that allowing “confessed and convicted war criminals to be ‘punished’ by no more than orders for community service is grotesquely insufficient” [5]. It is interesting that in a recent opinion poll analysis by Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz, it paradoxically showed that whilst on average 40% of Colombians would be willing to sacrifice justice for peace, only around 11% would accept FARC members not going to jail[6].

 

Another dimension into the problem of justice is that it provides amnesty to drug trafficking. It will be the biggest money laundering operation that the world will have seen, as the government has accepted that drug trafficking is a related offence to political crimes (article 39)[7]. There is no mention in the 297 pages of FARC having to use their fortune to restore their victims.  The FARC are the third richest terrorist organization in the world[8]. Most of that money has been gained through the cocaine business. If the government is unable to bring the biggest drug cartel to justice, how will they have the authority to prosecute other cartels and drug traffickers in the country?

 

Just as worrying as the many other dubious and deceiving clauses in the agreement, is the inappropriate use of democratic mechanisms to disguise the imposition of the agreement. The congress, which is controlled by the President, approved the Legislative Act for Peace. A modification to the constitution to give “security and legal stability” to the process [9] by shielding the agreements so future governments will be unable to change them. It will also be elevated to special status under the Geneva conventions, therefore treating it as an international agreement despite FARC being a non-state actor. Furthermore, it grants special powers to the president so he can expedite decrees that will fast-track the implementation of new laws and the changes in the constitution. A process that normally requires 8 debates in congress, will be reduced to 4. In addition, the proposals brought by the president can not be modified without his consent, and as a result the congress will lose its raison d’être. In order to put this in effect, Colombians must support the plebiscite,  which is polemic in itself as the threshold has been lowered from 50% to 13%. It is astonishing to see how the government slowly changes the constitution to suit a terrorist group.

 

It is a misconception that the peace process under the agreed terms will stop the conflict in Colombia. The reality is that even if FARC are gone, violence is very likely to continue as long as the drug trafficking business continues. The agreement will not bring an end to this trade [10]. There are already signs that other organised crime groups are moving into old FARC territory and taking over their criminal economies. In the past few weeks ELN, Colombia’s 2nd largest guerrilla force, has increased their kidnapping and extortion activities. They also announced that they would be having an armed strike in six departments of Colombia [11]. Many have argued that in saying “yes” to this agreement, an opportunity is given to those who have suffered the most to live in peace. The sad reality is that many of these people will not see that peace because soon they will be overrun by other criminal groups that will be extorting, kidnapping and killing. Unfortunately, the agreement fails to properly deal with the issue of drug trafficking. President Santos claims that the FARC will help to eradicate coca crops, but it is hard to see this happening when taking into account the fact that during the negotiating of the peace process, Colombia once again gained the status as the major cocaine producer in the world [12]. In fact, last week President Barack Obama highlighted Colombia’s 42% increase in coca crop cultivations between 2014 and 2015 [13].

 

Colombians that are voting NO, are not warmongers. They are concerned citizens who see the risks of the agreement, and want a renegotiation on some of the critical aspects of the agreement. Santos has said this is impossible, and threatened that war would prevail if the outcome is a no. If that is the case, then it is proof that FARC were not in it to end the conflict in the first place. As the counterinsurgency academic, David Spencer, puts it: these “peace negotiations are part of a plan [for the FARC] to take power: they are not a means to end the conflict but rather to transform it” [14]. Spencer also points out that FARC’s petitions do not resemble those of an organization that wants to reintegrate back into society, “but rather those of one attempting to dictate at the negotiating table the terms of a peace that it was unable to win on the battlefield” [15]. This agreement opens the door for the populist left that have put fellow Latin American countries like Cuba and Venezuela in complete chaos.

 

All Colombians want peace- but is it worth sacrificing justice and democracy for this distorted version? Would other countries be happy agreeing to the same terms with the terrorists that harmed and terrorized them?

 

[1] McDermott, Jeremy (2016, August 24) What Does Colombia Peace Mean for Cocaine Trade? <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/what-does-colombia-peace-deal-mean-for-cocaine-trade> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[2] Latest FARC numbers (15,700) / Colombian Population (48,814,452) x 100= 0.03%. Information obtained from http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/guerrilla-las-farc-contaria-15700-hombres & http://countrymeters.info/es/Colombia

 

[3] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html

 

[4] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to Curb Abuses< https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[5] Human Rights Watch (2016, August 25) Colombia: Peace Pact a Key Opportunity to CurbAbuses<https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/25/colombia-peace-pact-key-opportunity-curb-abuses> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[6] Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz (2016) El Termometro de la Paz <http://www.ideaspaz.org/especiales/termometro/#p3> [accessed 17 September 2016].

 

[7] Acuerdo Final Para la Terminacion del Conflicto y la Construccion de una Paz Estable y Duradera: http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/Documents/informes-especiales/abc-del-proceso-de-paz/acuerdo-general-proceso-paz.html

 

[8] Forbes International (2014, December 12) The World’s 10 Richest Terrorist Organizations <http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesinternational/2014/12/12/the-worlds-10-richest-terrorist-organizations/#9dee35e2ffae> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[9] CNN Español (2016, Junio 2) Congreso de Colombia aprueba reforma constitucional para blindar acuerdo de paz en La Habana < http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2016/06/02/congreso-aprueba-reforma-constitucional-para-blindar-acuerdo-de-paz-en-la-habana/> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[10] McDermott, Jeremy (2016, August 24) What Does Colombia Peace Mean for Cocaine Trade? <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/what-does-colombia-peace-deal-mean-for-cocaine-trade> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[11] Noticias RCN (2016, September 11) ELN anunció paro armado de 72 horas en seis departamentos < http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-pais/eln-anuncio-paro-armado-72-horas-seis-departamentos>[accessed 17 September 2016].

[12]Miroff, Nick (2015, November 10) Colombia is again the World’s Top Coca Producer.Here’s why that’s a blow to the US. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/in-a-blow-to-us-policy-colombia-is-again-the-worlds-top-producer-of-coca/2015/11/10/316d2f66-7bf0-11e5-bfb6-65300a5ff562_story.html> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[13] News Room America Feeds (2016, September 12) Presidential Determination—Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2017 <http://www.newsroomamerica.com/story/595587.html> [accessed 17 September 2016].

[14] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 137.

[15] Davies, Dickie; Kilcullen, David; Mills, Greg; Spencer, David (2016) A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence (London: Hurst Publishers) p.g 147

 

 

 

 

 

 

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