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It's the story of a spark that turned into a wildfire. August 12, 2016, Jean-Prince Mpandi, the sixth “Kamwina Nsapu”, the traditional chief of the Bajila Kasanga, was killed in an assault on his home, in the Kasai-Central province. All eyes were turned toward another Kasaïen, Étienne Tshisekedi, the historic opposition leader who had just returned home after two years of exile. Just a few months before the end of Joseph Kabila's term, one chose insurrection, the other chose dialogue. Ten months later, hundreds have been killed, perhaps thousands, and thousands of children enlisted as combatants, more than a million displaced, and at least forty mass graves have been found.

Like Étienne Tshisekedi, Jean-Prince Mpandi was a child of Kasai-Central, one of the poorest provinces in Grand Kasai. Until now, a haven of peace: majestic parishes every 20 kilometres, and surrounding villages that carry the names of the chiefs that lead them. Too few roads and bridges built during the time the missionaries were there, and not much since their departure. The railway, which still functions, zigzags across rivers and fields.

The old opponent Tshisekedi deserted his native Kasai long ago to lead the fight in Kinshasa. But in Grand-Kasai, there are only three powers that count: the state, which is detested by many, the Catholic Church, which has lost ground, and the traditional chiefs. Since 2015, a new law giving status to traditional chiefs was enacted. It calls for compensation for the chiefs and the publishing of a decree recognising the status of each chief. The Kabila regime is accused of using this new law to gain political advantage in order to assert its control over this opposition stronghold. Since colonisation, no regime—neither Mobutu's, nor Laurent-Désiré Kabila's—-had touched the traditional power in this area of Grand-Kasai. It is said that President Mobutu would go and see the most important traditional chiefs, at the royal court, to greet them.

The Kamwina Nsapu System

For some time, the country has experienced repeated economic crises. The most recent, the one that is hurting the DRC today, reminds Congolese people—maybe wrongfully—of the beginning of the 90s and the end of the Mobutu regime: a sharp weakening of the national currency, the increasing shortage of other currencies, rising prices and chronic unemployment. The economy of Grand-Kasai has declined at the same speed as MIBA, the mining company in Bakwanga, once the country's most flourishing business, which is now exploiting the nearly depleted diamond belt of Mbuji Mayi and is crumbling under 200 million dollars of debt.

Like their subjects, the traditional chiefs are poor. Some, accused of being in the pay of the current regime, gain recognition of their status without difficulty. But others, like Kamwina Nsapu, had to spend hours under a tree in front of the governor’s office. Jean-Prince Mpandi displayed patience according to those close to him, but got nowhere.


“I am the 6th Kamwina Nsapu…”

Sonia Rolley, RFI, in collaboration with Anaclet Tshimbalanga, traditional mediation expert.

It’s toward the end of 2012 that Jean-Prince Mpandi became the sixth Kamwina Nsapu, or one of the main traditional chiefs of Dibaya, in what was to become Kasai-Central. He was 46 years old. His predecessor, Anaclet Kabeya Mupala, was a colonel of the Zairian Armed Forces, the former regime's army. He died several months earlier in circumstances that those close to him always found suspicious. Évariste Boshab, also a Kasaïen was president of the National Assembly at the time.

“Kamwina Nsapu Ntumba, who I succeeded, died while in the midst of preparing for a meeting with Boshab. (...) Tradition dictates that I cannot even talk by phone with Boshab, since he was involved in the death of Kamwina Nsapu Ntumba.”
Extract from a telephone conversation of Jean-Prince Mpandi with a delegation of members of parliament on August 11, 2016

Original version

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In December 2014, Évariste Boshab was named deputy prime minister in charge of the interior by Joseph Kabila and therefore, became the main interlocutor for Kamwina Nsapu. The head of the country’s national security service is accused by his critics of multiplying decrees giving the status of traditional chief to his political followers, thereby creating doubles, or new customary entities. He even named his own brother as the head of the association of traditional chiefs of Kasai-Occidental, much to the chagrin of the deposed president of this association, Senator Emery Kalamba Wafwana, king of the Bashilenge, who was considered more legitimate.


For the Congolese authorities, Jean-Prince Mpandi is a charlatan, a criminal who spent his early years between Tshikapa, Lubumbashi, Zambia and South Africa. It’s difficult to piece together his past. He studied at agricultural college in Lubumbashi, in Katanga province, but did not complete his studies. In 2004-2005, he reappeared in Tshikapa in Kasai. He set up a traditional clinic and said that he had learned medicine from Chinese practitioners. Sometimes he said he had travelled to China. Other times, he presented himself as a veterinarian. He gave off hints of his political ambitions and talked about uniting his ethnic group, the Bajila Kasanga, into one movement. No one knew where he belonged politically, but he had ties with South Africa, where his family lives, and with opponents such as UDPS “combattants,” or even with Étienne Kabila, the self-proclaimed “brother” of Joseph, who was prosecuted for a coup attempt against the head of state (Joseph Kabila) before being acquitted.

Kamwina Nsapu at the royal court of the Kamwina Nsapu © DR

From Kinshasa’s viewpoint, it was in June 2015 that matters took a turn for the worse, as is revealed in a document that was never made public but was recently cited by the authorities. They had found it in Jean-Prince Mpandi’s belongings, and since January 2017 presented it as evidence of his desire to foment an insurrection.

“Mr. Kamwina Nsapu has criticised the negligence of the Congolese government since its independence, (...) treats all civil, military and police authorities as “mercenaries,” and calls the national government a “government of occupation.”
Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari replying to a question from Martin Kabuya, a member of parliament from Dibaya, in the National Assembly, January 17, 2017.

In January 2017, the new deputy prime minister in charge of the interior, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, told the assembly that the government held a document signed by Chief Kamwina Nsapu entitled “No to elections in 2016.” According to the Kinshasa regime, Jean-Prince Mpandi insisted on the need to restore traditional powers, “the natural emanation of citizenship,” called upon “all young people” to erect barricades and chase out foreigners from Grand-Kasai, with the exception of “diplomats.” Also, according to the regime, he issued an ultimatum for midnight on December 31, 2015.

Nothing in fact happened on the night of December 31, 2015 to January 1, 2016. But through his speeches, Mpandi attracted the attention of the security forces. A senior police officer, Chief Ntenda, a cousin, accused him of plotting an uprising.

“Based on the information received in April 2016 from a communique sent by the authorities, indicating the possession of military weapons by the group called Kamwina Nsapu, the provincial security council sent a joint ANR, FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo=Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and PNC (Police Nationale Congolaise=National Congolese Police) mission in order to verify the facts.”
Response of deputy prime minister in charge of the interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari to a question from Martin Kabuya, a member of parliament from Dibaya, in the National Assembly, January 17, 2017

Chief Kamwina Nsapu in front of the Tshiota, a sacred fire in the village of Kamwina Nsapu © DR


The influence of Kamwina Nsapu grew, not only because of his protest speeches before the Tshiota, the sacred fire, but also because of the ceremonies he organised, especially baptism, where a potion is supposed to make a person stronger, even invincible to bullets. According to a security service official who asked to remain anonymous, these ceremonies, coupled with politically-charged speeches, were already taking place before April 3, 2016. That day, while Kamwina Nsapu was in South Africa, the police conducted a heavy-handed search of his home – the reasons for this search, he would say until the end, he could not understand.

“I am not a traditional chief who will sell out. I would never sell the land of our ancestors. I would not betray my kingdom. I will not accept money from traitors. And I will not agree to being a member of their political party. I do not interfere in state affairs. Why did they come to provoke me? That is the problem. They laid their hands on my sacred objects that embody my power.”
Telephone conversation of Kamwina Nsapu with members of parliament, August 11, the day before his death

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RFI Interview - 14 february 2017 (original version)

Show of “frustration “of a traditional chief, Anaclet Tshimbalanga - expert in traditional medicine

For Jean-Prince Mpandi, this search was the straw that broke the camel's back. When he returned from his extended stay in South Africa, where his family lives, the traditional chief erected barricades around his home. Following a mediation attempt by provincial member of parliament Daniel Mbayi on July 15, 2016, Chief Kamwina Nsapu agreed to remove the barricades as a sign of goodwill. He even proposed, according to the member of parliament, a peace plan including the building of a school, a health centre and the distribution of seeds.

Kamwina Nsapu accepted to remove the barricade


On July 18, 2016, President Joseph Kabila arrived in Kananga, the capital of Central-Kasai Province. Officially, he came to inaugurate a solar power station, but he also sought to inquire about the “Kamwina Nsapu” case. With five months to the end of his last presidential term, he hoped that a first political dialogue under the aegis of the African Union would justify his remaining in power beyond December 19, 2016. But the announced return of Étienne Tshisekedi threatened to thwart this scenario. Indeed, on July 27, 2016, the convoy of the old opposition leader mobilised half a million people on the streets of Kinshasa.

On July 23, 2016, a gang believed to be followers of Kamwina Nsapu launched a punitive operation against Ntenda, the neighbour and rival of Jean-Prince Mpandi. About a hundred huts were burned down and at least six people killed. The Kamwina Nsapu denied being behind the attack and accused chief Ntenda of provoking one of his neighbours by erecting barricades. Jean-Prince Mpandi claimed that his men did not take part in this attack, despite what his rival Ntenda said. Chief Ntenda succeeded in convincing the authorities.

On the night of August 3 to 4, 2016, other militiamen turned up at the railway station and police headquarters in Mfuamba, in the neighbouring territory of Demba. They beat up the police officers and took away a Kalashnikov. On August 8, while the country’s head of state was in the east of the country to seal a peace deal with his neighbours, the traditional chief launched an attack on the city of Tshimbulu. The official toll was nine deaths, five of whom were policemen. The police station, the police substation, the residences of the police chief and the mayor of the city, and even the electoral commission office ... everything was set on fire.

Someone close to Kamwina Nsapu sharply criticised those who bring war.

On August 11, 2016, the National Security Council (NSC), led by vice-first minister of the interior Évariste Boshab, was in Kasai-Central. All the heads of military and security services took part in the meeting. A delegation of national members of parliament from the province was also dispatched to Kananga. Among them was the opponent Clément Kanku, who was pulled up the same day by the NSC for his support of the leader Kamwina Nsapu, based on the wiretapping of a conversation with an alleged militiaman.

What do we know about the telephone tapping of the member of parliament Clément Kanku?

The authorities asked the members of parliament to send Jean-Prince Mpandi an ultimatum. He had 24 hours to surrender to the police. If not, he would be killed. “We are living your last hours,” one of them said. Interviewed by RFI, the Congolese minister for human rights asserted that the government had no interest in killing Chief Kamwina Nsapu.

“What part of the population has confidence in your security services? The police make the population suffer, the soldiers cause the population to suffer, the ANR (National Intelligence Agency) cause the population to suffer. Therefore, I do not trust any of your security services. If the authorities wish to do so, let them come and take me by force.”

“I cannot come to Kananga to surrender in this stupid manner. If I came, who would receive me? Who would ensure my protection? So, I would ask you to call on MONUSCO (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo=Mission of the Organisation of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo) to ensure my safety in Kananga.”
Excerpts from a telephone conversation between Jean-Prince Mpandi, Kamwina Nsapu, and a delegation of members of parliament, on August 11, 2016

(Original version)

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The Kamwina Nsapu suggested that members of Parliament should come to his house to talk. He insisted that MONUSCO intervene. He was told that MONUSCO was no longer in Kasai-Central. In a second conversation with Professor Ambroise Kamukuny, a Member of Parliament elected from the neighbouring territory of Kazumba, the professor made a prophetic remark.

“True, you may fear for your safety, but the state authorities cannot lie to us by telling us, who are your children, that your safety is guaranteed. They cannot just go back on their word. But if these folk came to invade your kingdom killing women and children, we would not be pleased, and nor would you ...”
The Honorable Ambroise Kamukuny, Member of Parliament for Central-Kasai

“What words could justify killing them?”
Jean-Prince Mpandi, Kamwina Nsapu

“No, but during military operations, collateral damage is possible. Because when they will try to arrest you, your subjects will not accept it.”
Honorable Ambroise Kamukuny, Member of Parliament for Central-Kasai

“I want to write history. I leave you the Congo. Do what you want with it. But your bullying messages such as ‘the countdown has already begun…’ or ‘the soldiers have surrounded me’… for me... I won’t accept these threats. Only MONUSCO can come and get me. Otherwise, send your troops to kill me.”
Jean-Prince Mpandi, Chief Kamwina Nsapu

(Original Version)

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According to his relatives, on August 12, 2016, Jean-Prince Mpandi still hoped for the arrival of the parliamentary delegation. But he was not surprised when he learned that soldiers were approaching his village. The Kamwina Nsapu had announced it to the members of parliament. If he had to die, he had decided that he would die in his home on his own land. Jean-Prince Mpandi stood in front of the security forces. Wounded, he was forced to retreat.

Bloody Assault on the Kamwina Nsapu: Progress Report

Around 4pm, the sixth Kamwina Nsapu was killed by a bullet to the stomach, just behind the immense tree that shelters the courtyard and next to the modern tractor that was the pride of the people of the village. This tree was riddled with bullets, a sign of the violence of the onslaught. The military celebrated their victory and danced around the body of the leader. A machete was placed on his leg and his foot almost cut off. His face was swollen and the top of his white shirt soaked with blood. His hand was injured. His body was carried away by the security forces, leaving his family to imagine the worst of what Jean-Prince Mpandi could have endured. There were rumours his body was mutilated.

“This is the Kamwina Nsapu who was shot in the stomach. Look at him in his residence. (...) We have shown him that power stays with the law.”

“You… you played with the President of the Republic while it was he who, once installed, made you who you are? And you treat him like a nobody…”
Words of soldiers around the body of Kamwina Nsapu, August 12, 2016

The Death of Kamwina Nsapuu


Far from bringing peace, the death of Jean-Prince Mpandi stirred things up and allowed his “dream” to come true. An army of young people stood up against state authorities. His death marked the beginning of an unprecedented insurgency and a repression and violence rarely seen in Grand-Kasai. In early September 2016, the United Nations had already counted at least 51 dead, 21 localities directly affected by the conflict, 806 houses burned down, official buildings destroyed and nearly 12,000 displaced people in the territory of Dibaya.

Relatives of the Kamwina Nsapu among the ruins of his royal court, March 11, 2017 © Sonia Rolley

“Dream” or nightmare? The territory of Kamwina Nsapu then saw an army commanded by officers, essentially Rwandophones, swarming in. These officers, whom he accused during his lifetime of violating his attributes of power and doing everything to keep President Joseph Kabila in power after the end of his second and final term in office. Military reinforcements arrived in late December 2016 and early January 2017.The United Nations Mission in Congo, MONUSCO, was struggling to deploy its peacekeepers and investigate the growing allegations of massacres committed by the security forces, as well as the abuses committed by the militia.

“In Kasai, the modus operandi was the same as in the province of Kasai-Central or in the province of Kasai-Oriental: to attack all that is a symbol of the state. We are dealing with a militia composed of young people between the ages of eight and about thirty-years of age, (...) drugged at will and brainwashed with ideas that talismans will protect them from gunfire. These people were armed with bladed weapons, sticks tipped with everything imaginable and stones designed for attacking any policeman or soldier passing by. They also used firearms, including locally made 12-bore guns and war weapons recovered from attacks on police stations.”
Response of deputy prime minister in charge of the interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari to the question from Martin Kabuya, a member of parliament from Dibaya, before the National Assembly on January 17, 2017.

Young Kamwina Nsapu militants photographed during a peace-awareness raising campaign © DR

Initially, the government denounced an insurrectionary movement of young, unemployed drug addicts and kept secret the losses inflicted upon them. After the discovery of the first mass graves by the UN, the government increasingly called the insurgents “terrorists.”

“He is still alive. Looks like he still has a weapon. Kamwina Nsapu, intercedes for us, women and children are dying. Take away his weapons.”

“You ate the goats of others. You got it for yourself. You took people's chairs, peanuts ..."
Excerpts from a video shot during a militia operation by Kamwina Nsapu against a police station where several policemen were injured or killed, date and place unknown.


The Kamwina Nsapu launch their “mystical attacks” on Thursdays and Fridays to commemorate not only the death of their leader, but also to remember the hours that preceded it. They kill, and sometimes even decapitate, the state officials they manage to capture. It is political violence and victims are targeted: security forces, local leaders or authorities associated with the government and thus deemed to be “traitors”, electoral commission staff. Like the military, young militiamen photograph themselves and, more rarely, film themselves with their victims.

Police station attack by Kamwina Nsapu militiamen

But it is above all a popular insurrection. Traders who refuse to pay higher and higher taxes readily say they are “Kamwina Nsapu.” Young people in the cities keep a red band in their pocket, the emblematic sign of the revolt. When they are arrested, it is sometimes enough to be accused of being militiamen. And when they arrive in the villages, fleeing the security forces, they are easily accepted. The villagers understand their anger. They sometimes blame them for attracting the soldiers and death in their wake. They also increasingly blame them for attacking schools and churches. The people in the areas most affected have grown weary.

“Operation” a militia leader bursts out
“Tradition” respond the followers
Excerpts from a video shot during a militia operation by Kamwina Nsapu against a police station where several policemen were injured or killed, date and place unknown.

The insurgency is spreading to the five provinces of the Grand-Kasai region. Sankuru is the last to be “contaminated”—there are no other words for it. The more the government cracks down, the more the militia becomes more widespread and attracts new followers. The Tshiota - “baptisms”, -, the revolt against interference in traditional affairs, marginalisation, the rejection of poverty and of Joseph Kabila staying in power... all these factors “speak” to the Kasaïens. The militia move from their traditional area to that of their ethnic group. The contagion occurs gradually.

The Kamwina Nsapu system

Interrogation of a dying young girl in the governorate HQ of Kananga

On Friday, January 27, 2017, Kamwina Nsapu carried out one of their “mystical attacks” on Kananga. This little girl was wounded and brought back inside the governorate HQ for interrogation. Who is her leader? Where did she take the potion? A civilian filmed the scene. The child died a few minutes later. “Carry me, God will bless you.” The little girl received a kick in the face.

“Do you know God, you bad girl?” You're a criminal. Such a pretty girl.” Interrogation of a girl injured by a bullet wound on January 27th, 2017 in the governorate HQ of Kananga

In most of the videos shot by the security forces, the issue of “lies” is central. In front of the corpses of their victims, armed with a mobile phone, soldiers accuse them of having lied. The Kamwina Nsapu, mostly young people and children, are actually killed by the bullets of the security forces. The “Baptism,” that is, the potion of invincibility, does not protect them. And yet, they continue to mount the assault untiringly.

Bloody Assault on the Kamwina Nsapu: In front of Children


s Up to the death of Étienne Tshisekedi, on February 1, 2017, the central government could not set foot in Kananga. The new Prime Minister, Samy Badibanga (appointed following the conclusion of the national dialogue under the auspices of the African Union), is however a “native of the area.” His father had a bar in town. On January 26, on the eve of the assault on Kananga, at the end of which a little girl was about to die in the governorate building, the prime minister planned a visit, which he then postponed indefinitely. Security forces were trying to regain control of the region. At the moment when he was in a dialogue in Kinshasa with Étienne Tshisekedi's UDPS (Union Démocratique pour le Progrès Social=Democratic Union for Social Progress) and its allies in the opposition Rally, the new deputy prime minister, also in charge of the interior, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, simultaneously began talks with the Kamwina Nsapu’s royal family to try to calm things down.

RFI Report, 12 March 2017 (original version)

Seven months after the chief's death, in his village, those near him are still demanding the return of Kamwina Nsapu's corpse

March 12, 2017, the head of internal security manages to land in Kananga. The agreement with the family is almost complete. Prominent members of the royal court have already arrived. Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari arrives at nightfall with a large delegation. The path is surrounded by all the city's security forces, as there were still skirmishes earlier in the day. Both the majority and opposition members of parliament who accompanied the deputy prime minister are convinced that the agreement has already been signed. Key members of the family are already won over - provided that the government makes the necessary gestures.

Arrival in Kananga of Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, deputy prime minister in charge of the interior

The same day, at about the same time, two UN experts were killed about a hundred kilometres away, not far from Moyo-Musuila. The American Michael J. Sharp and the Swede Zaida Catalan came to identify the perpetrators of the violence in Grand-Kasai. They were working for the UN Security Council and were responsible for collecting the evidence needed to vote on sanctions. On March 12, 2017, the two experts were murdered as they went to Kamwina Nsapu’s “group” meetings in the Bunkonde region. Not far from there, in Ngombe, is one of the first Tshiota of the post-Mpandi era. According to a confidential UN report, this Tshiota was among those that saw the highest number of child recruits. Investigations into child recruitment are part of the UN experts' mandate, as are all abuses committed by both the Kamwina Nsapu and the security forces.

In March 2017, after Étienne Tshisekedi’s death, the second national dialogue, held this time under the auspices of the Catholic Church, became bogged down. An agreement-in-principle of power sharing was signed on December 31, 2016, but the practicalities still needed to be worked out. The UDPS, the party of the late historical opponent, is demanding the resignation of the Badibanga government and the appointment of a new prime minister of its own choice.

However, in Grand Kasai, discussions are still ongoing. Deputy prime minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari is gradually getting the royal family to sign an agreement with him.

RFI Report, 03 december 2017 (original version)

In the village of the Kamwina Nsapu, young militia members who present themselves as the young brothers of Jean-Prince Mpandi say they are ready to make peace, but demand development aid for their territory and the return of their traditional chief's corpse.

It must be said that important members of the court have never been very far from power. While Clément Kanku, one of the prominent subjects of the Kamwina Nsapu, became minister of the Badibanga government, the provincial minister of health is a member of the royal family. Innocente Bakanseka is very close to Governor Alex Kande, who is despised by the royal family. Like Évariste Boshab, he was dismissed from the government in early 2017. Since the beginning of the conflict, family members have been approached one by one by those in power.

On March 17, 2017, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari announced the end of the Kamwina Nsapu crisis. An agreement was reached with the family. A month later, the new Kamwina Nsapu was appointed by family representatives. Jacques Kabeya Ntumba worked with Member of parliament Clément Kanku in Kinshasa. He is considered close to the authorities. Very few at the court rose to challenge him. Officially, the body of Jean-Prince Mpandi was returned to the family, and now the family is calling for an end to hostilities. However, on the ground, nothing has changed.


Since August 2016, the conflict has spread far beyond the traditional Kamwina Nsapu area. Grand-Kasai, once a haven of peace, has become a war zone with a million internally displaced people, as well as some 30,000 refugees who have fled across the border into the Angolan province of Lunda Norte. This area increasingly resembles the eastern DRC. Ethnic conflicts are manipulated for political or security purposes. In the Luebo territory, as in Tshikapa, the Pende and Tshokwe militias, who are considered close to the authorities, and the Luluwas militia, from which the first Kamwina Nsapu came, are all on the warpath. The European Union has even issued sanctions against Gédéon Kyungu because he has sent his militia into Kasai to join the in the fighting and created even more confusion. This warlord from Katanga, accused of crimes against humanity, surrendered to the authorities by wearing a t-shirt bearing a picture of Joseph Kabila. Officially to preserve public order, the authorities took him to a posh house in Lubumbashi, where they placed him under house arrest.

Read more: Repression in the DRC: nine officials officially sanctioned by the EU (original version)

In early May 2017, after the assassination of one of its agents, the CENI (National Independent Electoral Commission) announced the suspension of voter registration in Grand-Kasai, threatening to hold up the entire electoral process again. The CENI is one of the prime targets of the Kamwina Nsapu, who accuses it of doing everything to keep Joseph Kabila in power.

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RFI approached Lambert Mendé, the DRC government spokesperson and asked him to respond to the issues raised in our investigation.

Click here to read or listen to the interview (in French)

Former deputy prime minister Evariste Boshab, declined to be interviewed by RFI.

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