OPINION: What does Chinese ‘reciprocity’ mean for Mekong’s dams?

by Carl Middleton

  The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city on Hainan Island, China. The aim of the LMC – a China led multilateral body involving all six Mekong countries – is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. Leaders have repeatedly declared the importance of the Lancang-Mekong River to this cooperation. Reflecting this, on 1-2 November, the LMC will host the “1st Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum” in Kunming, China.

The LMC’s second leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in January 2018 revealed the swift pace of the initiative. This is reflected in the numerous senior-level meetings between governments, the initiation of almost 200 China-funded projects, and the LMC’s deepening institutionalisation through various LMC secretariats and working groups. Yet, while China has hosted people-to-people exchange programs and university scholarships, the LMC’s state-centric approach has afforded little opportunity for public deliberation about its overall policy principles and direction.

Through the LMC, some government officials and scholars from China have proposed that downstream and upstream countries have both rights and responsibilities towards each other. This concept of ‘reciprocity’ is not yet official LMC policy, but suggests a shift in government position compared to China’s earlier unilateral construction of dams on the Lancang River. Overall, the LMC and its proposition of ‘reciprocity’ appears to be an invitation to negotiate basin-wide water cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River.

Much, however, remains uncertain. For example, how will the LMC build upon the existing inter-governmental Mekong River Commission, established in 1995 by the four lower basin countries? How will the LMC address concerns of riverside communities and civil society and ensure their meaningful inclusion? And how will countries ensure the river’s ecological health given the strong push for economic growth and associated water infrastructure projects? This article asks whether the LMC and the concept of ‘reciprocity’ is a promising approach to meet these challenges.

For the full article, please click here.

JOURNAL ARTICLE: National Human Rights Institutions, Extraterritorial Obligations and Hydropower in Southeast Asia: Implications of the Region’s Authoritarian Turn

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Publication date:
June 2018

Publication: Austrian Journal of Southeast Asia Studies

Authors:
Carl Middleton

Abstract:
This article examines the role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and transnational civil society in pursing Extraterritorial Obligation (ETO) cases in Southeast Asia as a means to investigate human rights threatened by cross-border investment projects. Two large hydropower dams under construction in Laos submitted to NHRIs from Thailand and Malaysia, namely the Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam, are detailed as case studies. The article argues that the emergence of ETOs in Southeast Asia, and its future potential, is dependent upon the collaborative relationship between the NHRIs and transnational civil society networks. Whilst NHRIs are in positions of political authority to investigate cases, civil society also enable cases through networking, research, and public advocacy. Further institutionalization of ETOs is significant to emerging regional and global agendas on business and human rights, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that both the Thai and Malaysian governments have expressed commitment to. However, in Thailand and its neighboring countries where investments are located there has been an authoritarian turn. Reflecting this, there are weakening mandates of NHRIs and reduced civil and political freedoms upon which civil society depends that challenges the ability to investigate and pursue cases.

Read the article here.

BOOK CHAPTER: Branding Dams: Nam Theun 2 and its Role in Producing the Discourse of “Sustainable Hydropower”

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Publication date:
June 2018

Publication:
Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank's Model Hydropower Project in Laos

Author:
Carl Middleton

Editors: Bruce Shoemaker and William Robichaud

For further details on the book please visit the book's website here.

In the 1990s, the global hydropower industry – in particular the industry of Northern countries – was facing a growing crisis of legitimacy. Opponents of large dams grew in numbers and became increasingly vocal, claiming that development benefits were exaggerated. This cumulated in the publication of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) report in 2000, which affirmed many of the opponents’ criticisms.   In this context, the World Bank, seeking a means to once again finance large hydropower, put forward the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) hydropower project as a new, best-practice approach.  Meanwhile, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) sought to counter the WCD with its own sustainability guidelines in 2004 and subsequently a Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP) launched in 2011. From this significant and combined effort of large am proponents emerged the policy discourse of “sustainable hydropower,” the purpose of which was to re-legitimize the industry.

This chapter deconstructs how NT2 has been discursively produced as a “brand” and woven in to the “sustainable hydropower” discourse. The chapter argues that in public the World Bank and the hydropower industry have regularly drawn on the NT2 as a model to legitimize their claim that “sustainable hydropower” can exist. Needless to say, this claim is fiercely disputed. Indeed, behind closed doors amongst the project’s proponents and in specialist hydropower industry conferences, more provisos and nuances are considered that bracket the public claims of success. The chapter also addresses how NT2 has been represented in regional and global debates on “sustainable hydropower,” for example in relation to the Hydropower Sustainabilty Assessment Protocol led by the International Hydropower Association. 

Please contact Dr. Carl Middleton for more information.

Citation: Middleton, C. (2018) "Chapter 13: Branding Dams: Nam Theun 2 and its Role in Producing the Discourse of 'Sustainable Hydropower'" (pp 271-292) in Shoemaker, B. and Robichaud, W. (eds.) Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank's Model Hydropower Project in Laos. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison.

 

REPORT: Charting New Pathways Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Development of the Nu River Valley

REPORT: Charting New Pathways Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Development of the Nu River Valley

Development comes at a cost, but what that cost is and who bears that cost is not set in stone. China’s rapid economic ascent has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but it has also precipitated severe ecological crises. In many cases, a “pollute first, clean up later” mentality towards industrialization has led to inequitable and unjust outcomes for both people and the environment. The Chinese government’s efforts on maintaining high economic growth rates in an effort to modernize the economy and society has in many cases obscured the scale of damage done to the environment, though the Chinese government and other institutional actors are actively taking steps to mitigate and alleviate issues of environmental degradation. The story of the Nu River, also known as the Salween or the Thanlwin, illustrates how hydropower development on the river was actively contested and resisted by diverse stakeholders, opening up possibilities for other kinds of water resource management and development.

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CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS: Salween Studies Research Workshop - The Role of Research for a Sustainable Salween River

CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS: Salween Studies Research Workshop - The Role of Research for a Sustainable Salween River

The 2018 Salween Studies Research Workshop gathered researchers and experts from around the world on 26 & 27 February at the University of Yangon, Myanmar to discuss the present situation of this important river as well as the future of the basin, its people and natural ecologies. This research workshop was also the final meeting of the Salween Water Governance Project and as such, represents the culmination of three years of research and collaboration among the “Salween University Network.” The workshop was co-hosted by the University of Yangon, the York Centre for Asian Research and CSDS, with the kind support of CGIAR WLE and Australian Aid. Over sixty participants were able to spend two full days diving into important issues and developments all related to the unique Salween River, with topics ranging from the traditional conversations around water management and natural conservation to more contentious presentations on peace/conflict and alternative development planning. With great diversity in backgrounds, nationality and expertise, it can be concluded that the wealth of knowledge exchange and learning that took place during this workshop was not only inspiring to all those in attendance, but has set the bar for future gatherings on the topic, aimed at creating real action and planning for Salween River sustainable and inclusive development.

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POLICY BRIEF: Analyzing the Impact of Land Cover Changes on Socio-economic Conditions and its Policy Implications in Kayah, Myanmar

This policy brief aims to highlight and analyze the impact of land cover changes to the socio-economic conditions of four villages in Bawlakhe District, Kayah State and its policy implications in Myanmar. The study area lies in the Thanlwin (Salween) River Basin, home to communities of various ethnic groups including the Kayah, Yintale and Shan, as well as being rich in biodiversity. These local communities heavily depend on this watershed area for most parts of their lives, including food, water, security, fuel and income. The main economy of the people in these areas depends on forest production, which is the major economy in Bawlakhe. Moreover, local people depend on subsistence farming, especially shifting cultivation which is practiced in these areas. Their livelihoods are still closely related to the environment and largely contribute to the local economy. This policy brief shares geographical research to describe the role of forest use in support of livelihoods for the communities in the study area.Declining fish stock and catches within the estuary and out at sea have had deep impacts on community livelihoods, ecology and socio-economics within last ten to forty years. Encouraging the reduction and management of the natural and anthropogenic threats might encourage specific ways to improve the fishery status of the estuary.

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POLICY BRIEF: Thanlwin-Nu-Salween Estuary: Threats Challenging Brackish Water Fisheries

The Thanlwin/Salween River originates in China, where it is known as the Nu (angry) River and flows south into Myanmar, then eventually Thailand. It meets with two rivers (namely the Gyine and Attran Rivers) at the point of Mawlamyine and together discharge into the sea (Gulf of Mottama) by two channels (namely the Mawlamyine and Dayebauk Rivers). These four Thanlwin tributaries are experiencing daily tidal intrusion and freshwater discharge, forming estuarine environments and habitats for varieties of fresh, brackish and marine creatures. The term estuary refers to a mixing body of fresh and sea waters. The Mon and Kayin ethnic groups are dominant around the estuary and the riparian communities largely depend on fisheries within the river tributaries as well as those out at sea for their livelihoods and survival.

Declining fish stock and catches within the estuary and out at sea have had deep impacts on community livelihoods, ecology and socio-economics within last ten to forty years. Encouraging the reduction and management of the natural and anthropogenic threats might encourage specific ways to improve the fishery status of the estuary.

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POLICY BRIEF: Ethnobotanical Survey in Kun Lone, Lashio District: Documenting Traditional Medicine

Kun Lone township, situated in Lashio District, Northern Shan State, Myanmar is home to various ethnic groups, namely the Kokant, Wa, Kachin, Larr hue, Bamar, and Shan. It is also home to various medicinal plants that are essential for traditional medicine practices. In developing countries, traditional medicine is perceived to be an important part of human health care (WHO, 2002). In Myanmar, health care has even been provided to the people with potent therapies of traditional medicines at Yangon Traditional Medicine Hospital, Mandalay traditional medicine hospital and Monywa Traditional Medicine hospital. Myanmar traditional medicine practitioners aim to give health care services to people in accordance with their traditions. This policy brief documents traditional ethnomedicine use and practices in Kun Lone township and suggests ways that traditional medicine can continue to provide health care benefits for the future.

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POLICY BRIEF: Thinking Beyond Relocated Villages: Have We Overlooked the Impacts of the Dams on Downstream Communities?

Myanmar is a developing country trying to follow in the footsteps of its neighboring countries, which are rather more developed than itself. The Myanmar Government wants to harness its natural resources and sees the rivers of the country as a national asset in acquiring regular revenue for the government. The decision to build many mega dams on the major rivers of the country such as the Irrawaddy, Salween and Sittaung rivers is considered a natural resource development. With their high energy needs, Myanmar’s two neighboring countries, China and Thailand, want cheap energy by importing hydropower from Myanmar.

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REPORT: Water Governance and Access to Water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar

REPORT: Water Governance and Access to Water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar

By Carl Middleton, Naruemon Thabchumpon, Van Bawi Lian and Orapan Pratomlek

 

Hakha town is the capital of Chin State, Myanmar, located in the mountainous Northwest of the country. In recent years, the town’s population has faced growing water insecurity, which has created great hardship for the local population. Meanwhile, a major landslide in the town in July 2015 compounded these challenges, resulting in the resettlement of over 4000 people.

The purpose of the research presented in this report is to understand the underlying factors and dynamics that have produced water insecurity in Hakha town to generate policy recommendations towards attaining sustainable access to water for all.  

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POLICY BRIEF: The Differences in Women’s Development and Employment of Xiao Shaba Village

Gender-related issues figure high on global research and policy agendas, especially economic issues such as employment and development inequity between men and women. This research has identified gaps in employment opportunities between men and women and has also identified the related causes of gender inequity in terms of their employment opportunities. The results of this research culminate to contribute to raising awareness of the affected people in the reservoir resettlement area, particularly focusing on the role of women. The research emphasizes the changes in employment circumstances and prospects after resettlement, and compares the income of people before and after the transition.

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POLICY BRIEF: Natural Resource Use and Access and Local Livelihoods Along the Thanlwin River Basin

Watershed resources in the Shan state of Myanmar provide the base for livelihood security among rural populations, providing food, shelter, and medicine to regions where markets, clinics, and schools are scarce. Taungya, or shifting cultivation, utilizes the landscape as an agricultural mosaic of forest and upland fields.


The Thanlwin River, also known as the Salween, provides fish, crustaceans, and riverbank vegetables as food for village members; gold for currency; water for drinking and household needs; and power for micro-hydro generators.

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POLICY BRIEF: Gender and Hydropower: Women’s Rights in the Development Discourse

This policy brief provides recommendations for hydropower developments, focusing particularly on the nexus of gender and hydropower development. In recent years, Myanmar has been moving towards market economy development with a tendency to extract natural resources in order to fuel economic growth. Hydropower is an example of how the government is meeting the demands of economic growth through electricity that benefits some at the expense of others. Gender is just one aspect among many that has been undermined in this process. It is recognized in Myanmar that women are important bearers of culture in society, often with a close relationship with the environment, but they have little recognition in society and have little decision making power when it comes to natural resource management

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POLICY BRIEF: From Hydropower to Sustainable Ecotourism: The Future of Development in the Nu River Valley, Yunnan, China

Following concerns raised by a coalition of Chinese environmental groups, scientists and policy makers including the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), the 13 proposed mainstream dams on the Nu/Salween River have been under suspension since 2004. It is now very likely that the dam project will be cancelled given the plan’s lack of inclusion in China’s 13th five-year development plan and the announcement of a project to build national parks in the area in 2016. This is a positive development for those concerned about sustainable development in the Mekong Region, as well as an opportunity for concerned citizens, environmentalists and the Chinese authorities to work closer together to build a sustainable future for the Nu River in China as well as its residents upstream and downstream.

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POLICY BRIEF: “Rights and Rites:” Approaching the Issue of Justice for the Salween River

The Salween River is valuable for the livelihoods and culture of millions of ethnic people living along it. Hatgyi Dam is one of the five dams that is planned to be built in Karen State, Myanmar. Situated in an armed conflict area, the dam is not only challenging the livelihoods and culture of the local people but is also being seriously affected by decades of violent conflict resulting in human rights violations and mass displacement of civilians. There are questions of community involvement in the decision-making processes regarding the dam project, and therefore a constructive response is needed for justice in water governance on the Salween River. Drawing from recent research on the Hatgyi Dam, this policy brief applies the concepts of "Rights" and "Rites" to examine community expectations and decision-making processes towards the project. The “Rights-Based Approach” is a formalized and legalistic approach normally recognized by the state, while the “Rites-Based Approach” is a locally defined natural resource management approach which is centered around cultural norms and local knowledge. The objective is to show how both approaches of “Rights and Rites" could help contribute towards inclusive decision-making and address concerns about injustice. The issue of justice is not yet fully considered in the current development policy agenda for water governance in Myanmar, and decision-making over the Salween dams to date has been highly centralized without community participation. Within the opportunities provided by Myanmar’s current political context, "Rights" and "Rites" approaches towards water governance policy in Myanmar could contribute positively towards inclusive decision-making in order to address the issue of justice in water governance for the Salween River.

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POLICY BRIEF: Myanmar and China Dams: The Need for Strong Environmental Impact Assessment

A comparative study on China’s and Myanmar’s approaches to environmental impact assessments (EIA) to hydropower projects shows that the Chinese EIA is weaker than the Myanmar EIA based on Myanmar’s EIA procedural rules of 2015 and other environmental laws and standards. These findings partially explain the not very successful Chinese investment in hydropower projects in Myanmar, which are argued to have important and often negative implications for both countries.

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POLICY BRIEF: Large Hydropower Projects in Ethnic Areas in Myanmar: Placing Community Participation and Gender Central to Decision-Making

POLICY BRIEF: Large Hydropower Projects in Ethnic Areas in Myanmar: Placing Community Participation and Gender Central to Decision-Making

Until recent times, due to a lack of transparency, accountability and community participation, large scale hydropower dams in resource rich, ethnic areas rarely benefited the local people, instead having negative impacts on their livelihoods and the environment. Existing studies have indicated that dam projects in ethnic areas are associated with human rights violations and increasing the risk of triggering conflict in such sensitive areas. In most cases, disadvantaged groups such as women and children are usually the ones mostly affected. Given the historical and traditional lack of women’s participation in public affairs, especially in ethnic areas, women’s voices are rarely heard and mostly excluded from the development process that directly affects their lives.

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CONFERENCE PAPER: “Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia

“Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia

By Carl Middleton[1] and Mira Käkönen[2]

Presented at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EURO-SEA) conference,
University of Oxford, 16-18 August, 2017

In the 1990s, the global hydropower industry faced a growing crisis of legitimacy as its contribution towards development was questioned. Southeast Asia was central to this debate. The World Bank’s exit from large hydropower globally was marked by Thailand’s Pak Mun Dam in 1994, and its return by the Nam Theun 2 in Laos in 2006 accompanied by claims of a new best-practice approach. Meanwhile, the International Hydropower Association developed sustainability guidelines in 2004 and subsequently a Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol launched in 2011. From these and other efforts by large dam proponents emerged the discourse of “sustainable hydropower,” which sought to re-legitimize the industry by reinventing hydropower dams as sustainable development projects, rather than electricity infrastructure alone.
 
With large hydropower dams high on government and business actors’ agendas in Southeast Asia, this paper shows how the region has been a material testing ground of “sustainable hydropower” and central to the production of its discourse. Taking the case of Nam Theun 2 in particular, and the performative role it has played in producing ‘the sustainability’ that is required to make the sustainable hydropower discourse credible, as well as more recent projects and plans in Laos and Myanmar, we assess that the industry has mildly reformed rather than fundamentally transformed. This takes particular salience given that the proponents of “sustainable hydropower” are seeking to take leadership in defining hydropower’s future role within global-level debates on climate mitigation, including seeking to define criteria for eligibility to access Green Climate Funds. Throwing doubt on claims that processes of ecological modernization and “green economy” are actually occurring as claimed by some, we argue that hydropower as a global industry are part of the forces that may inhibit work towards a social-ecological transformation of society.

Download full paper click here.
Download Power Point of this paper click here.

Cite this article as: Middleton, C. and Käkönen, M. (2017) "“Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia" Paper presented at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EURO-SEA) conference, University of Oxford, 16-18 August, 2017

[1] Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. (Carl.Chulalongkorn@gmail.com)
[2] Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland. (mira.kakonen@helsinki.fi)

POLICY BRIEF: Water Governance and Access to Water in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar: Towards Addressing Water Insecurity [Chin language]

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Publication date:
July 2017

Publication:
CSDS Policy Brief

Author:
Carl Middleton, Naruemon Thabchumpon, Van Bawi Lian, and Orapan Pratomlek

Please see the Chin language policy brief here.
Please see the English language policy brief here.

Summary
Hakha cu Kawlram nitlak chaklei fing le tlang an tamnak Chin ramkulh khualipi a si. A liamcia kum tlawmpal ah Hakha khuachung khuasa an hung karh ciammam i dinti ah harnak a tong. Cu lio ah 2015 Chiapa thla dongh ah mincimhnak hun ton a si i minung a thong lengkai hmundang ah ṭhial hau in an um. Hi kan dothlatnak nih a langhter mi cu zeitluk in dah ti harnak hi taksa nunnak le zatlang khuasaknak aa pehtlaih: Khuapi pakhat a si i, minung an hung karh tik ah zeitin in dah inn hmun an samh ti le khua an ser ning, tihram ngeih mi hna pawngkam vialte thinghau le thinghlam nak nih ti a chuak tawn mi le hman tawn mi a tlawmter, cun ti pekning le sersiam ning kong ah tangka hman awk pek lonak hna nih ti kong ah i zat lonak le harnak a chuahpi. 
Khuaram kan sersiam pah i ti kong biapi chiahnak nih ti harnak in i runven khawh a si, tiva horkuang sersiam ning, atu lio tawlrel cuahmah mi sipin ti peknak le hman ning kong ah laihlum khuasa hna le ti a hmang mi hna he i fonh in tiharnak in i runvennak timhtuahnak ngeihchih a herh. Cun, a biapi deuh rih mi cu ṭuanvo ngeitu le mizapi karlak ah i zumhnak, i bochannak le i ngamhtlaknak hna nih Hakha khuachung khuasa hna caah ti pek ning le ti hmuh ning ah hngatchan tlak le rinhchantlak a siter lai. 

OPINION: Reasons for Water Scarcity in Hakha [In Chin language]

OPINION: Reasons for Water Scarcity in Hakha [In Chin language]

Hakha cu Kawlram nitlak chaklei fing le tlang an tamnak Chin ramkulh khualipi a si. A liamcia kum tlawmpal ah Hakha khuachung khuasa an hung karh ciammam i dinti ah harnak a tong. Cu lio ah 2015 Chiapa thla dongh ah mincimhnak hun ton a si i minung a thong lengkai hmundang ah ṭhial hau in um. Hi kan dothlatnak nih a langhter mi cu zeitluk in dah ti harnak hi taksa nunnak le zatlang khuasaknak aa pehtlaih: Khuapi pakhat a si i, minung an hung karh tik ah zeitin in dah inn hmun an samh ti le khua an ser ning, tihram ngeih mi hna pawngkam vialte thinghau le thinghlam nak nih ti a chuak tawn mi le hman tawn mi a tlawmter, cun ti pekning le sersiam ning kong ah tangka hman awk pek lonak hna nih ti kong ah i zat lonak le harnak a chuahpi. Khuaram kan sersiam pah i ti kong biapi chiahnak nih ti harnak in i runven khawh a si, tiva horkuang sersiam ning, atu lio tawlrel cuahmah mi sipin ti peknak le hman ning kong ah laihlum khuasa hna le ti a hmang mi hna he i fonh in tiharnak in i runvennak timhtuahnak ngeihchih a herh. Cun, a biapi deuh rih mi cu ṭuanvo ngeitu le mizapi karlak ah i zumhnak, i bochannak le i ngamhtlaknak hna nih Hakha khuachung khuasa hna caah ti pek ning le ti hmuh ning ah hngatchan tlak le rinhchantlak a siter lai.

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