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A Sudan Development Conference in Germany? Germans Need to Re-Confront Their Past

By Eric Reeves

January 22, 2013 (SSNA) -- On January 29, 2013 a development conference, designed to promote international investment in Sudan, will be held in Berlin, Germany—sponsored by the German government with very little other European or U.S. support.  This lack of support forced cancellation of previously scheduled conferences in Turkey and Norway, and the reasons could hardly be clearer: development aid to a regime—not a country—that is responsible for serial genocide could not be more inappropriate.  This is particularly true for Germany, given its grim 20th-century history.  Whether we are talking about the Nuba Mountains of the 1990s, Darfur in the early 21st century, civilian destruction in the border regions where most Sudanese oil is located, or the current campaign of civilian annihilation in Blue Nile and again the Nuba Mountains—all have been initiated by the ruling National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime.  Ethnically-targeted human destruction has been the signature means by which this ghastly security cabal has retained military and thus economic control of Sudan, formerly including South Sudan.

Put simply, economic development aid and international investment for a regime that has spent profligately on military purchases that have proved essential to genocidal warfare is morally intolerable.

None of this is new, or news, except for the fact of Germany’s hosting the upcoming conference; but this conference comes at a time when Khartoum’s campaign in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains continues unabated, with relentless and deliberate aerial bombardment of civilians and civilian agriculture, a murderous ground campaign that kills civilians indiscriminately, and a humanitarian embargo imposed by the regime for a year and a half—and a year following a proposal for relief access proposed by the African Union, the Arab League, and the UN (February 2, 2012).  There can be no mistaking the purpose of this embargo, even as there was none during the very similar embargo of the 1990s.  Khartoum intends to destroy the Nuba people, “as such” (to deploy a key phrase from the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).  The ambition has been forcefully described by Alex de Waal:

“The counterinsurgency fought by the Government of Sudan against the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan during the early 1990s was not only exceptionally violent, but also aimed at depopulating the area of civilians. Not only did the government aim to defeat the SPLA forces but they also intended a wholesale transformation of Nuba society in such a way that its prior identity was destroyed. The campaign was genocidal in intent and at one point, appeared to be on the brink of success….  The war was notable for attacks on civilian targets with forced displacement, rape and killing. The principal instruments of counterinsurgency included locally-recruited militia, the regular army and the air force, under the overall coordination of Military Intelligence….”   (“Averting Genocide in the Nuba Mountains,” 2006) (all emphases in all quotations have been added—ER)

Behind the earlier campaign in the Nuba, behind the “oil war” that raged in much of what was then Western Upper Nile beginning in 1997, behind the genocide in Darfur, and behind the current campaign of annihilation in Blue Nile and South Kordofan lies a deep racism and ethnic intolerance that is a mainstay of the Arabist and Islamist ideology of the NIF/NCP.  This characterization has been resisted by some, including political scientist Alan Wolfe, would-be historian Mahmood Mamdani, a number of Europeans, and many northern Sudanese, even those who do not support the regime.  But the evidence is overwhelming, and it continues to force itself upon us.  The German government, in reflecting on the hateful racial ideology of Nazism, would do well to consider this evidence carefully before going forward with a development conference for the Khartoum regime.  To be sure, South Sudan has also been invited; but those leading the popular uprising in the Nuba and Blue Nile—the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N)—have strenuously urged that Germany reconsider.  The reasons are not hard to find.

In a strikingly revealing moment in a recent Agence France-Presse dispatch (January 19, 2013) on the courageous assessment mission of Mukesh Kapila and others to Blue Nile and the Nuba, Kapila is reported as noting the content (not atypical) of Sudanese state-controlled radio.  The radio phrasing was, indeed, the most immediate occasion for this brief overview:

“In Blue Nile, where Kapila estimates 450,000 people are affected by the conflict, fields and villages have been razed, he said, and the population is described on Sudanese radio as ‘black plastic bags’ that must be cleared out of the area.”

It should be noted that for having the temerity to refer to the Darfur genocide in blunt and unequivocal terms in March 2004, Kapila lost his job as chief UN humanitarian coordinator for all of Sudan.  For as Kapila well knew, the same hateful racial/ethnic animus informed the civilian destruction in Darfur.  Even if he did not have access to some of the most damning evidence, he had seen plenty and knew full well what motivated the tidal wave of violence against non-Arab/African tribal groups of the region.  What he spoke of in such determined fashion in his March 2004 BBC interview was fully born out by later revelations about the ambitions of Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies.  In their 2005 book Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, de Waal and Julie Flint point to an extraordinary document:

“The ultimate objective in Darfur is spelled out in an August 2004 directive from [Janjaweed paramount leader Musa] Hilal’s headquarters. ‘Change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes.’”

Of course “emptying Darfur of African tribes” could only be accomplished by the most violently destructive means: thousands of villages destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people killed, and millions displaced—these were the means by which a “changed demography” was achieved. And as de Waal and Flint point out, this was no operation merely of the Arab militias, the Janjaweed, that Khartoum had so heavily armed.

“Confirming the control of [Khartoum's] Military Intelligence over the Darfur file, the directive is addressed to no fewer than three intelligence services—the Intelligence and Security Department, Military Intelligence and National Security, and the ultra-secret Constructive Security,’ or Amn al Ijabi.” (pp. 38 – 39)

The deep ethnic intolerance, indeed hatred implicit in such ambition is revealed continually in contemporaneous accounts of the racial insults that were hurled during village attacks and particularly in the savage campaign of rape, a campaign that continues to this day. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) courageously reported on the character of rape in 2005, this on the basis of narratives accumulated during extensive clinical experience.  One example from a great many:

“We saw five Arab men who came to us and asked where our husbands were. Then they told us that we should have sex with them. We said no. So they beat and raped us. After they abused us, they told us that now we would have Arab babies; and if they would find any Fur [one of the non-Arab or African tribal groups of Darfur], they would rape them again to change the colour of their children.’ (Three women, 25, 30 and 40, October 2004, West Darfur)”  (“The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur,” (Amsterdam, March 8, 2005).

Such examples are all consistent with the use of rape as a broader weapon of war, one that MSF aptly summarizes:

“Tear apart the community, by breaking family and community bonds and by engaging in ethnic cleansing through ‘pollution’ of the blood line. A key motive of the Janjaweed use of rape as a weapon of war appears to be to destroy the non-Arab Darfurian society as a separate ethnic entity. Reports of rapes are replete with statements made by the Janjaweed perpetrators suggesting their intent to make a ‘free baby’ (implying that the non-Arabs are slaves) and to ‘pollute’ the tribal blood line, which is patrilineal in the Darfurian tribes.” (page 18)

For a variety of reasons, rape serves as a means of preventing births on the part of women within the targeted African groups. Those girls and women raped are often socially ostracized, and become much less valued as potential wives; they may be disowned by their families or husbands; violent rape often leads to medical complications that make further child-bearing impossible or much riskier; and rape often carries the threat of disease and infection, including direct threats to the lives of potential mothers. Rape as committed by Khartoum’s military and proxy forces in Darfur is entirely consistent with the genocidal ambitions that have been in evidence since 2003, and contributes significantly to the current genocide by attrition that has succeeded the most intense phase of violent destruction (2003-05).  Here we should recall that the 1948 Genocide Convention explicitly identifies as genocidal those acts that “impos[e] measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Tara Gingerich and Jennifer Leaning also report on the racial/ethnic animus in the accounts of rape coming from non-Arab or African women, accounts that make clear the genocidal nature of these assaults:

“It is widely reported that during the attacks, the Janjaweed often berated the women, calling them slaves [abid], telling them that they would now bear a ‘free child,’ and asserting that they (the perpetrators) are wiping out the non-Arabs.” (“The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the Conflict in Darfur, Sudan,” page 15)

In April 2008 Human Rights Watch also issued a starkly damning report on rape as a weapon of war.

“Five years into the armed conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, women and girls living in displaced persons camps, towns, and rural areas remain extremely vulnerable to sexual violence. Sexual violence continues to occur throughout the region, both in the context of continuing attacks on civilians, and during periods of relative calm. Those responsible are usually men from the Sudanese security forces, militias [i.e., Janjaweed], rebel groups, and former rebel groups, who target women and girls predominantly (but not exclusively) from Fur, Zaghawa, Masalit, Berti, Tunjur, and other non-Arab ethnicities.” (“Five Years on: No Justice for Sexual Violence in Darfur,” April 2008)

Ethnic hostilities had become so pervasive by 2008 that it was incumbent on Human Rights Watch to offer the qualification that appears here about the targets of rape.  But the adverb “predominantly” should certainly be “overwhelmingly,” if we are to characterize accurately the data available.  The following is typical of the vast majority of reported cases:

“In an example from North Darfur, three armed Arab men reportedly raped a Berti woman and her daughter who were out collecting wood. According to the survivors, the men approached on camels and asked what tribe the women belonged to and whether they had seen any other camels roaming the area. The men pointed their weapons at the women and ordered them to follow them to a nearby village, where they took the mother and daughter into an abandoned hut and proceeded to rape them in turns. During the rape, one said, ‘You Bertis are slaves. Go and tell your men to come meet us.’”

A report from Amnesty International offers many other examples:

“‘I was sleeping when the attack on Disa started. I was taken away by the attackers, they were all in uniforms. They took dozens of other girls and made us walk for three hours. During the day we were beaten and they were telling us: “You, the black women, we will exterminate you, you have no god.” At night we were raped several times. The Arabs guarded us with arms and we were not given food for three days.’”  (A female refugee from Disa [Masalit village, West Darfur], interviewed by Amnesty International delegates in Goz Amer camp for Sudanese refugees in Chad, May 2004)”

“‘When we tried to escape they shot more children. They raped women; I saw many cases of Janjawid raping women and girlsThey are happy when they rapeThey sing when they rape and they tell that we are just slaves and that they can do with us how they wish.’ (A., aged 37, from Mukjar told Amnesty International how the Janjawid had raped and humiliated women)” (Amnesty International, “Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War,” July 19, 2004).

How many women and girls have been raped, and continue to be raped?  We will never know for many reasons, but we catch a statistical glimpse in an Associated Press dispatch of 2007:

“UN workers say they registered 2,500 rapes in Darfur in 2006, but believe far more went unreportedThe real figure is probably thousands a month, said a UN official. Like other UN personnel and aid workers interviewed, the official insisted on speaking anonymously for fear of being expelled by the government.” (Associated Press [Nyala], May 26, 2007)

We may be morally certain that many tens of thousands of girls and women have been raped because of their ethnicity since 2003.

The Predominance of Racial Contempt in the NIF/NCP

President al-Bashir, in declaring (April 2012) that Sudan was essentially at war with South Sudan, revealingly announced that Khartoum’s military ambition was to destroy the “insect government in Juba.”  We have heard such language of racial contempt many times from al-Bashir’s regime; in this instance it is difficult not to recall the infamously ubiquitous calls in Rwanda in 1994 for the destruction of Tutsi “cockroaches.”

“Ethnic culling” of those of Southern ethnic (and religious) heritage who have remained in Sudan has begun, although some of the most extreme measures initially proposed have been temporarily suspended (many of these “Southerners” were of course born in Sudan).  But there can be little doubt that life for non-Arabs and non-Muslims will become increasingly untenable in Sudan without regime change (see “Ethnic Culling in Sudan,” February 22, 2012, Dissent Magazine).

To be sure, those in the international community given to expediency will always find it easier to profess skepticism about “ethnic cleansing” and genocide occurring in areas to which neither journalists nor human rights monitors have easy access.  The U.S. is particularly guilty on this score, especially in the wake of violence that exploded in South Kordofan in early June 2011.  In comments of June 16, 2011—eleven days after the killing began in Kadugli, South Kordofan—U.S. special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman claimed that the world “doesn’t have enough information on the ground to call the campaign ‘ethnic cleansing.’”

Lyman did precious little to get the necessary “information,” but contemporaneous reports—from civilians speaking with news organizations and to expatriate groups—should have been both chilling and compelling.  The highly reliable Sudan Ecumenical Forum declared in outrage that “[other civilians from Kadugli] have fled to the Nuba Mountains, where they are being hunted down like animals by helicopter gunships.” Nuba were being systematically stopped at checkpoints grimly similar to those once seen in Rwanda. One aid worker who had recently escaped from South Kordofan told McClatchy News, “Those [Nuba] coming in are saying, ‘Whenever they see you are a black person, they kill you.’”

Yet another Nuba resident of Kadugli told Agence France-Presse that he had been informed by a member of the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces that they had been provided plenty of weapons and ammunition, and a standing order: “He said that they had clear instructions: just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up .…  He told me he saw two trucks of people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town.”

…just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up.”  There could hardly be a greater congruence with the contents of the Sudanese radio description as reported by Kapila. 

But it is not merely rhetoric or racial epithets.  As a field report from the Enough Project reports on the basis of on-the-ground research in the Blue Nile region (November 1, 2011):

Some Blue Nile residents also reported that government forces were targeting, killing, and raping civilians…. ‘Soldiers with small arms were chasing the civilians. [Asma] said the militias and government forces did not spare children and pregnant women. ‘It’s all because we are black,’ she said.”

“When asked whether the militias or soldiers said anything to the civilians in their pursuit, Asma said the militias were shouting directions at each other, saying, ‘Grab the slaves.’ Her account was corroborated by Kasmero who, when fleeing from the state capital of Damazine, ran through Um Darfa when fighting began. He said after the SAF attacked the town with helicopter gunships and Antonovs, the “janjaweed” and Fellata began to indiscriminately kill civilians. ‘I saw bodies all the way from Damazine to Ethiopia,’ he said. ‘There is no discrimination, the common theme is you are black.’”

The word “slave” here translates the Arabic abid, which does indeed mean slave—and slavery has left a terrible legacy throughout South Sudan, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan.  But the word is racially charged, and has many of the same connotations as the hateful English word “nigger.”  This utter contempt for the humanity of the people of Blue Nile, for “Africans,” is reflected in the unsurpassable brutality with which children were treated:

“Aziz, who fled from Baw town, told Enough that government militias—who were sent to bring back those who had fled to the mountains nearby—kidnapped and detained some of the displaced women and young girls in a school. ‘At night they had visitors and they did whatever they wanted with them,” he said, referring to SAF soldiers and government militias. Two young girls were killed as a result of being raped by around 30 men, said Ali, who also fled from Baw and spoke to Enough with Aziz.”

The unwillingness to accept such evidence results in truly extraordinary generalizations by part-time Sudan observers.  Alan Wolfe, in excoriating the Darfur advocacy community (and me in particular) has asserted that “the conflict [in Darfur] has never taken the form of Arabs killing Africans and has not been accompanied by the hate speech associated with Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia.”  What are we to make of such outrageously false claims?  What lies behind them?  For of course there are endless reports of, precisely, “Arabs killing Africans [non-Arabs]” and of such “hate speech,” here selected from just one report by Amnesty International (July 18, 2004):

• “Omar al Bashir told us that we should kill all the NubasThere is no place here for the Negroes any more.“  (Words of a Janjawid fighter, according to a refugee from Kenyu, interviewed by Amnesty International in Chad, May 2004)

•  “The Tama, a small ethnic group mainly composed of farmers, have been both victims of attacks and accused several times of siding with the Janjawid in the 2003-2004 conflict: ‘Slaves! Nubas! Do you have a god? You, ugly black pretend… We are your god! Your god is Omer al-Bashir.’” ["Nuba" is another racially derogatory epithet commonly used in Darfur—ER]

• You blacks, you have spoilt the countryWe are here to burn you…We will kill your husbands and sons and we will sleep with you! You will be our wives!”  (The words of members of the Janjawid as reported by a group of Masalit women in Goz Amer refugee camp, interviewed by Amnesty International in May 2004)

•  “M., a 50-year-old woman from Fur Baranga reported: ‘The village was attacked during the night in October 2003, when the Arabs came by cars and on horses. They said “every black woman must be killed, even the children.”‘”

•  Sudanese refugees interviewed by Amnesty International in Chad charged that Salamat nomads from Chad and fighters from Mauritania were recruited to fight in Darfur:

“‘What we heard from the Janjawid is that Omer al-Bashir tells the foreigners that they are Arabs and that they should come and live in a country that is ruled by ArabsThat they should not stay where they are ruled by Africans. They say that Sudan is a country for Arabs.’  (M., Sudanese refugee in Chad, interviewed by Amnesty International in May 2004)”

 “‘The government gave the Arabs confidence, arms, cars and horses.  We cannot go back; there will be no security for African people in Darfur.’ (Sudanese woman interviewed by Amnesty International in Mile refugee camp, Chad, May 2004)”

•  “M., a Masalit chief of the village of Disa, reported that during attacks in June 2003 by the Janjawid and in July and August by the military, 63 persons were killed, including his daughter. In June the Janjawid reportedly accused the villagers of being ‘traitors to Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.’  [ ] In July the military arrested several persons including Brahim Siddiq, a seven-year-old boy. In June the Janjawid said during the attack‘You are complicit with the opponents, you are Blacks, no Black can stay here, and no Black can stay in Sudan.’  Arab women were accompanying the attackers singing songs in praise of the government and encouraging the attackers. The women said:

‘The blood of the Blacks runs like waterwe take their goods and we chase them from our area and our cattle will be in their land. The power of al-Bashir belongs to the Arabs and we will kill you until the endyou Blacks, we have killed your God.’  They also insulted the women from the village saying ‘You are gorillas, you are Black, and you are badly dressed.’”

In some ways, the refusal to acknowledge racist language is a perverse measure of how potent such behavior is and how severely it may be judged.  Certainly the data available suggest that such power has been very considerable in Darfur: more than 2 million displacedsome 500,000 dead, and millions more at risk.  There is a palpable defensiveness in the intemperate commentary that comes my way from some northern Sudanese (typically anonymously), desperate to insist that there is no ethnic dimension to fighting anywhere in greater Sudan.  Here we must wonder whom the German government is listening to.

But the evidence, even as reflected in the excerpts very briefly culled here, is unambiguous.  The examples run to the thousands if we look at the reports, news accounts, personal stories, and public statements from Khartoum over the past fifteen years and more.  And this is to leave aside the inferences to be drawn from the indiscriminate nature of Khartoum’s conduct of war: relentless aerial bombardment with highly inaccurate, retrofitted Antonov aircraft (cargo planes by design), region-wide aid embargoes and relief restrictions (in South Sudan, Darfur, and Blue Nile and South Kordofan, as well as eastern Sudan), and wholesale destruction of villages, footstocks, livestock, and agricultural capacity. 

Like the internally displaced persons of Darfur—overwhelmingly from non-Arab/African tribal groups—those who suffer from this deliberately indiscriminate warfare are also virtually all of African ethnicity.  This is true whether we are speaking about the tribal groups that make up the Nuba, the Ingessana and other groups in Blue Nile, the Nilotic and Equatorian tribal groups of South Sudan, or the Fur, Massalit, Zaghawa, Tunjur, and others in Darfur.

The mass graves that have been authoritatively established as having been built in the immediate aftermath of the bloodbath that began in Kadugli on June 5, 2011 should also be an indication of the systematic nature of this ethnically-targeted destruction. So, too, should the forceful removal of some 7,000 Nuba civilians from UN protective custody in June 2011.  Nineteen months after Khartoum’s security forces (some disguised as Red Crescent workers) removed these people, in violation of international law, they remain unaccounted for—except implicitly in the grim increase in mass gravesites:

“The United Nations said Tuesday it was concerned about the fate of 7,000 Sudanese civilians last seen being forced by authorities to leave the protection of a UN compound in the tense border region between the North and South.” (Associated Press [Geneva], June 28, 2011)

We have heard nothing more about these people—certainly nothing from Germany or the EU countries that found themselves so shocked by what occurred at Srebrenica. These terrible incidents and the weak UN response in Kadugli have already been likened, rightly, to the ghastly failure of the UN at Srebrenica, where some 7,000 Bosnian men and boys were rounded up in July 1995 by Serbian army and paramilitary units under the command of Ratko Mladic—and executed while Dutch peacekeepers looked on helplessly.  Why is the comparison between Kadugli and Srebrenica inappropriate, given the similar response of the (Egyptian-dominated) UN force on the ground?

Germany must confront its past in assessing the decision to host Khartoum

Leaders of the Khartoum regime, including al-Bashir, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court on scores of counts of crimes against humanity and genocide.  Many more will eventually be indicted, it is clear—and some of these men plan to attend the Berlin conference.  The crimes are unspeakable, but Human Rights Watch provides one instance that may suggest something of the nature of the crimes for which the men in Khartoum must answer:

“In a joint operation in the Darfur region of Sudan, [Khartoum] government troops working with Arab militias detained 136 African men whom the militias massacred hours later. [ ] The 136 men, all members of the Fur ethnic group aged between 20 and 60, were rounded up in early March in two separate sweeps in the Garsila and Mugjir areas in Wadi Saleh [south of Zalingei in West Darfur]. They were then taken in army lorries to nearby valleys where they were made to kneel before being killed with a bullet in the back of the neck.” (Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2004)

A lone survivor, left for dead, was able to escape later that night and tell his story to human rights investigators. Human Rights Watch also makes clear that these actions are those of the Khartoum regime, not simply its Arab militia allies (the Janjaweed)—and that there is a clear racial/ethnic animus in the attacks. Having documented dozens of attacks at the time, Human Rights Watch found that “all but two of the attacks against black Africans were carried out in conjunction with government forces.”

Of course on many occasions, there was no discrimination between men and women, girls and boys.  The notorious Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal is reported to have overseen this particular attack on African tribespeople in North Darfur:

“In an attack on 27 February [2004] in the Tawilah area of northern Darfur, 30 villages were burned to the ground, over 200 people killed and over 200 girls and women raped—some by up to 14 assailants and in front of their fathers who were later killed. A further 150 women and 200 children were abducted.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)

And when even these means of extermination proved insufficient, the regime resorted to a war of attrition against international humanitarian relief efforts in Darfur, expelling in March 2009 thirteen key international nongovernmental aid organizations and shutting down three important Sudanese NGOs.  Together they constituted roughly half the overall humanitarian capacity in Darfur; that capacity has never been replaced, and both the reach and capacity of remaining relief organizations has continued to diminish—and expulsions have continued.  A mass exodus is a distinct and growing possibility amidst the current extreme violence in all three Darfur states and the climate of total impunity that Khartoum maintains for its militia allies.

Does the German government imagine that this regime has rehabilitated itself?  Given what is happening throughout Darfur, Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains, Abyei, what possible evidence can there be for such change?  What grounds are there for believing that development and investment assistance won’t simply provide Khartoum’s génocidaires with a firmer grim on power, power that is in fact slipping away amidst the current economic crisis as popular unrest grows throughout the country?

Why can’t Germany, at the very least, postpone any such conference until full humanitarian access has been secured for the embattled regions of greater Sudan, including Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Darfur, and Abyei?  Will the Germans take appropriate note of the fact that Khartoum last year expelled key relief organizations from eastern Sudan on wholly specious charges?  And what about the stench of self-interest that attaches to such a conference?  German companies are among the very few in Europe that ignore U.S. trade sanctions.  Thus, for example, the German engineering group Lahmeyer has just helped to expand a major dam in southeast Sudan on the Blue Nile.  Is this conference in the interest of all the people in greater Sudan—or just those with whom Berlin chooses to do business?

Germany of all the countries in Europe should be most wary of accommodating those who would destroy other human beings simply because of their religion or ethnicity.  The morally incomprehensible decision to host a development conference for the current regime in Khartoum, under present circumstances, seems a shameful forgetting.

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, is author most recently of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org

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