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These stories were published Monday, Jan. 26, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 17
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Ok of draft trade treaty gets mixed reviews
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Negotiators for the United States and Costa Rica have agreed to the text of a free trade treaty and announced the deal at midday Sunday.

Although the text of the agreement has not yet been released, union officials, professionals and agricultural leaders said they would fight the pact in the streets and in the Asamblea Nacional. The agreement requires approval there and by the U.S. Congress to become effective.

Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior of Costa Rica, characterized the accord as balanced. In many areas the pact gives Costa Rica breathing space before quotas are eliminated and import duties are reduced.  For some products, such as rice and milk products, import duties are reduced over 20 years. Costa Rica would continue to protect its onion and potato farmers. These products are not included in the free trade agreement.

Nevertheless, the agreement, if approved, would represent a revolution in Costa Rica lifestyles.

The ministry said that telecommunications would be opened up selectively, gradually and under regulation.  A process was outlined, resulting in some private access to providing certain services by 2006.

In the meantime, Costa Rica will pass a law that strengthens the telecommunications monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, by the end of this year. Legislation would be needed to regulate the new services, too.

Private computer data networks and Internet services would be opened to competition no later than January 2006.

Cellular services would be open to competition completely by Jan. 1, 2007.

The agreement also would open up the insurance market in Costa Rica, now a monopoly

What does it all mean?

Agricultural impact

Treaty’s history

Summary of details

All BELOW!

of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. Costa Ricans would be able to buy insurance from third party foreign providers, when the treaty takes effect. By Jan. 1, 2008, private providers, including Costa Rican companies, would be able to offer non-obligatory forms of insurance.  Three years later, private companies could offer all kinds of insurance, including some that are required under the law. Such obligatory insurance might include workplace insurance, that now is sold by the institute.

The social security payments workers and employers make to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social would not be affected. Among other legislative requirements is that the country would have to set up laws and provide the framework for regulating the insurance industry.

Insurance, agriculture and telecommunications were some of the areas at which Costa Rica balked in approving the agreement with four other Central American countries in December.

The proposed treaty contains clauses to protect foreign investors here and also to allow the exchange of professionals, such as physicians, without burdensome licensing requirements.

Anabel González was the head of negotiations for Costa Rica. Negotiators have been making agreements, mostly on agricultural products, for the last two weeks. 

President Abel Pacheco believes strongly in the free trade treaty as a poverty fighting tool. U.S. President George Bush also is strongly committed to a hemispheric free trade agreement.


 
Sunday soccer brawl ends in death for one player in Cartago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A soccer game Sunday turned into a brawl, and one of the players died after being beaten.

The melee developed in Quircot in the district of San Nicolás in Cartago Province. Fuerza Pública officers said the local team was playing an informal squad of residents when the fight 

developed from unspecified reasons at 2 p.m.

The fight moved off the field. Police said that when they arrived, most of the players scattered, but one man continued to beat another. That man later was identified by the last names of Rivera Jiménez. The man being beaten, German Silva Corrales, 25, died later at Hospital Max Peralta in Cartago.

 
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From teacher to queen: It's all in a night's work
By Laureen Diephof
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Her student’s look up to her. Way up. She’s 5 feet 11 inches tall in her stocking feet, and her students are 5-year-olds. 

She is the new Miss Costa Rica of 2004, who began her queenly dreams when she was as young as her 28 Sol Naciente school kindergarten students. The new Miss Costa Rica, Nancy Soto, 22, of San Lorenzo District in Heredia was named Friday night in the  preliminary contest for Miss Universe, held at the National Auditorium, Museo de los Niños.

The next day, she arrived at the home of her godmother, Xinia Gonzalez, in San Lorenzo District with a sore throat. She was talking intermittently on her cell phone and calmly answering congratulatory calls during an interview. The house was full of friends.

One of 55 finalists, narrowed to ten, and then to three, she strode off the stage crowned the winner after answering a question, that, because of the excitement, her memory was uncertain, but it was something like, "What would it mean to you if you were chosen Miss Costa Rica?" 

The answer she gave, also a blur, "All of my dreams have been fulfilled with this honor. I wanted to be Miss Costa Rica from the time I was a little girl. I achieved my dream with perseverance." 

Her perseverance paid off, not from endless childhood pageants, but by winning the Miss Teen Costa Rica pageant in 1999. She has had her eye on the larger goal since then, she said.

She has dark brown hair and eyes and wore slim jeans and a bright red halter-top. She reminisced about her Miss Universe dreams beginning as a child. How will this honor change her life? "Now I can go to other countries, and I have many more opportunities."

How does she react to a feminist point of view that pageants such as this one are degrading to a young woman, and strips her of her dignity?

"Well," she said, after carefully thinking before 

A.M. Costa Rica/Laureen Diephof
Nancy Soto. Miss Costa Rica 2004

speaking, "I don’t hold that view. Beauty and intelligence makes it possible to achieve personal goals."

Miss Soto is a graduate of the Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología, where she studied to become a kindergarten teacher.

Walter Campos, her boyfriend who works in his father’s freight business, Arce Campos and Equipsa in Miami, accompanied her and helped with the English translation. For fun she loves dancing, tropical music and athletics. She was a basketball player for the Santa Cecilia high school, where she began studying English. 

During the photo session, that lasted about three minutes, she quickly assumed the obviously practiced, angle-to-the lens stance popular in fashion shoots and pageants. 

Will her dream to be the next Miss Universe be fulfilled? She will learn that when she represents Costa Rica in that contest held in Equador in May. 


 
Harris defense gets
help from Berger

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of Guatemala has sent a message to judges in the Bruce Harris defamation trial there, according to Casa Alianza.

The child welfare group said that the president, Oscar Berger, reminded the trial magistrates that freedom of expression should be guaranteed.

Harris, a British subject, is the Latin American director for Casa Alianza, and he is on trial in Guatemala for words that he uttered at a press conference in 1997.

In a report on what happened at the trial Friday, Casa Alianza said that Frank La Rue, president of the country’s Presidential Commission on Human Rights, arrived at the trial bearing the message from the newly inaugurated Berger.

La Rue also announced that the Guatemalan government will re-enact the Hague Convention on International Adoptions which stopped functioning in the country as a result of a ruling from the constitutional court when resolving an appeal from a group of lawyers who practice private adoptions, Casa Alianza said.

The trial was to resume today, and a videotape of the press conference will be played for the judges, Casa Alianza said.

The person bringing the criminal charge is Susana Luarca de Umaña. She is a politically connected lawyer who is involved in the adoption business in Guatemala. Harris was speaking at a press conference set up by the solicitor general of the country when the alleged defamation took place.

During her appearance at the trial, the former director of the Children’s Section of the Solicitor General’s Office, Carmela Curup, said that when Harris gave his opinion in the press conference, he did it with the support of a formal agreement between her office and Casa Alianza.

The Harris case has become an international embarrassment for Guatemala because that country’s criminal code does not recognize truth as a defense to defamation. Harris also has received support from a number of international agencies, including Amnesty International. Harris faces a possible prison term, if convicted.

Flattening cages
on agenda for today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Zoo Ave, the zoological park of the Fundación Restauración de la Naturaleza, will hold its symbolic destruction of animal cages, starting at 9 a.m. today at the location in La Garita.

Youngsters 12 and under have been encouraged to bring cages for destruction. An earthmoving machine will be used to flatten the cages. The idea is to reject the use of forest animals as pet. The cage destruction is part of a cultural festival that runs through Friday at the location. 

Zoo Ave Wildlife Conservation Park is one of three wildlife projects owned and operated by the foundation and serves as a rescue facility for wildlife. The zoo itself is designed to educate the public about conservation and to display native Costa Rican species in a healthy and respectful manner, according to its Web site. 

Zoo Ave is approximately 10 minutes west of Juan Santamaría International Airport on the Pan American Highway and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Uncle Sam pretender
wants your money

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Perhaps you thought you had seen it all.

Scammers send you phony pages from major companies and ask you to download programs that will send them your sensitive financial information.

Or maybe it is a message from Pay Pal saying that your account will be closed unless you send in an update to your information. And the link they give looks just like Pay Pal’s Web page, but it is not.

Some Pakistanis are pulling all the stops. Their message, allegedly from the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., begins:

"In cooperation with the Department Of Homeland Security, Federal, State and Local Governments your account has been denied insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation due to suspected violations of the Patriot Act. 

"While we have only a limited amount of evidence gathered on your account at this time it is enough to suspect that currency violations may have occurred in your account and due to this activity we have withdrawn Federal Deposit Insurance on your account until we verify that your account has not been used in a violation of the Patriot Act. 

Naturally, at the end of this doubletalk the scammers want you to send them your bank account information. A reader traced the link to Pakistan.

Another reader reported that a similar scam is going around and involves the use of Internet accounts at Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. as bait. That’s RACSA, the Internet monopoly.

Cops say he pretended
to be utility employee

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados who were behind on their water bill got a visit last week from a man who offered to straighten out their accounts cheaply.

The man claimed to be an employee of the Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water, company, but he was not, police said after they detained him.  The man, who had the last names of Román Montenegro, was wanted on a similar allegation in Alajuela, Fuerza Pública officers said.
 

Man with long record
picked up by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rigoberto Gerardo Blanco Núñez is the poster boy for an initiative by police downtown to grab repeat offenders. Blanco, who was picked up Thursday night, has been detained on 123 earlier occasions, officers said.

The man was grabbed between Avenida 3 and Calle 8 after having been outside of San José for some time. Police characterized him as a career robber who uses a knife or a gun. Arrest warrants had been issued for multiple robberies, police said.

Officers have picked up at least 24 or an estimated 52 repeat offenders they have branded as the cause of most of the crimes in the center of San José.

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U.S. Rights group decries certification of Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A New York-based human rights group is accusing the Bush Administration of ignoring human rights abuses by the government of Colombia.

Human Rights Watch said Friday that the administration has squandered its leverage in Colombia by its decision to renew aid to the Colombian Armed Forces.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell certified that Colombia is meeting congressional standards for protecting human rights. The decision releases $34 million in aid to Colombia.

Human Rights Watch says it has "abundant evidence" that Colombia has not complied with human rights protections.  For example, the group says when Colombian officers are linked to human rights crimes, they get promotions or pay raises.

"The U.S. certification suggests that the Bush administration sees the defense of human rights as a matter of paperwork, not concrete actions," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division. "It also demonstrates how readily the administration sacrifices human rights concerns to other interests."

The Jan. 20 certification, which was announced Friday, is the eighth for Colombia since the U.S. Congress first mandated human rights conditions on military aid. The statutory conditions on U.S. aid require the Colombian government to break ties between its military and illegal paramilitary groups, suspend officers implicated in abuses, actively pursue and arrest paramilitary leaders, and restore order to regions beset by guerrilla and paramilitary violence.

Human Rights Watch said it has compiled abundant evidence to show that Colombia has not complied with the U.S. government’s conditions.

One case involves an army officer, Col. Víctor Matamoros, who the State Department reported had been detained for alleged paramilitary ties in 2001. However, Matamoros was later freed after the military failed to transfer its investigation to civilian investigators by the legal deadline, thus forcing its closure for technical reasons.

"Again and again, we see that when military officers are charged with corruption or drug trafficking, or even cowardice, they are dealt with immediately," said Vivanco. "But when officers are linked to human rights crimes, they get promotions and pay raises."

Under U.S. law, Congress can suspend the State Department’s new power to allocate funds toward counterterrorism operations. Funds were formerly restricted to anti-drug efforts only. A suspension is possible if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that the Colombian Armed Forces are not conducting vigorous operations to restore government authority and respect for rights in areas under paramilitary or guerrilla control.

Human Rights Watch said that it has compiled credible evidence showing that U.S.-backed operations in Colombia are not effectively reducing paramilitary control over territory. In fact, some areas formerly controlled by guerrillas have passed into the hands of paramilitaries, who act with the tacit support of local security forces.

"In effect, paramilitaries are allowed to win, so they become the de facto authorities," Vivanco said. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe claims that his policies have reduced certain categories of political violence, including massacres, killings, kidnappings, and attacks on towns. 

U.S. aid pays for the training and supplying of the Colombian army’s aviation and helicopter units, its ground forces in Arauca, and its Counter-Drug Brigade. The aid also supports the Air Bridge Denial program, which seeks to prevent drug shipments via airplane in or out of the country. 


 
CIA link alleged in trafficking of guns to rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States is denying any CIA link to an arms trafficking case involving Peru's former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, and leftist Colombian rebels. 

Montesinos — who is jailed in Peru for corruption — is currently on trial on charges he organized the sale of 10 thousand assault rifles to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 1999. 

Prosecutors say the rifles were purchased from Jordan and then dropped by parachute to the rebels known as the FARC for its name in Spanish.

Earlier this week, a Peruvian anti-corruption prosecutor was quoted as saying Montesinos was 
believed to have had CIA support in delivering the weapons to the insurgents. 

But, the U.S. Embassy in Lima said in a statement that the allegation is baseless.  The embassy response also comes after the judge in the Montesinos case approved a defense request to call CIA Director George Tenet to testify. The request would be transmitted to the United States by diplomatic channels. 

A state attorney in the case has asked for other CIA, embassy and FBI officials who were in Lima at the time to testify. There was no comment from Washington on whether they would do so. 

Montesinos was spy chief to Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. 

The president's 10-year term in office ended in 2000 amid a corruption scandal involving Montesinos. Fujimori fled to his parents' native Japan. 


 
Venezuelans take to the streets in rival protests
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have rallied through the streets here in rival protests over whether President Hugo Chavez should submit to a recall referendum.

National Guard troops in riot gear took up positions Friday as the protesters made their way through the streets, waving banners, blowing whistles and chanting. The rally took place one month after the Venezuelan opposition turned in more than three million pro-referendum signatures to electoral authorities. 

The number of signatures was far more than the 2.4 million required by the constitution to force the vote on removing the elected president from office. President Chavez has dismissed the referendum petition as fraudulent, saying many signatures are forgeries. The opposition accuses him of trying to block the vote. The electoral council is checking the validity of the signatures.

Critics accuse President Chavez of ruining the economy and trying to model the oil-rich country after communist-led Cuba. Chavez insists he is working to improve the lives of the impoverished majority.


 
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The devil is in the details of proposed trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To call the proposed free trade treaty a Trojan horse probably is not fair, but the agreement does have aspects that are not highly visible.

Many impacts of the agreement have been pushed far away. Insurance, for example, has seven years before the full impact of the agreement is seen. Some agricultural products are protected for up to 20 years.


An analysis


In Costa Rica an international treaty has a force higher than the national constitution, so courts will not be able to mitigate any changes mandated by the agreement.

But the real impact may not be in agricultural exports, telecommunications or insurance. And a number of sections address very narrow and specific areas. Professionals, for example, would seem to have a much easier path to move to Costa Rica and work than to do the reverse. The Costa Rican physicians organization already has placed ads expressing its concern. Soon the accountants, lawyers and others will join in.

Expect many more small crusades by narrow 

segments of the economy after the full text of theagreement is released. What, for example, are the full ramifications of what has been briefly outlined as:

"State-of-the-art protections and non-discriminatory treatment are provided for digital products such as U.S. software, music, text, and videos. Protections for U.S. patents, trademarks and trade secrets are strengthened."

Or how about the summary that says "The agreement establishes a secure, predictable legal framework for U.S. investors in Central America."

Another summary promises "ground-breaking anti-corruption measures in government contracting. U.S. firms are guaranteed a fair and transparent process to sell goods and services to a wide range of Central American government entities."

Once again, the devil is in the details, and the details are not yet available.

However, that does not stop protests or full page advertisements. The firemen already have expressed their concern. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros operates the Cuerpo de Bomberos, and the concern is how will the organization be financed when the insurance institute faces outside competition.


 
U.S. summary of contents stresses opportunity
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Here is a summary of the U.S.-Costa Rican free trade agreement as released by the U.S. Office of the Trade representative. The actual text of the agreement has not yet been released.

New opportunities for U.S. workers and manufacturers: 

More than 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial goods will become duty-free in 
Alberto Trejos
Central America immediately, with remaining tariffs phased out over 10 years. Key U.S. export sectors will benefit, such as information technology products, agricultural and construction equipment, paper products, chemicals, and medical and scientific equipment.

Expanded markets for U.S. farmers and ranchers: 

More than half of current U.S. farm exports to Central America will become duty-free immediately, including high quality cuts of beef, cotton, wheat, soybeans, 

key fruits and vegetables, processed food products, and wine, among others. Tariffs on most remaining U.S. farm products will be phased out within 15 years. U.S. farm products that will benefit from improved market access include pork, dry beans, vegetable oil, poultry, rice, corn, and dairy products.

Textiles and apparel: 

Textiles and apparel will be duty-free and quota-free immediately if they meet the agreement’s rule of origin, promoting new opportunities for U.S. and Central American fiber, yarn, fabric and apparel manufacturing. The agreement’s benefits for textiles and apparel will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004. An unprecedented provision will give duty-free benefits to some apparel made in Central America that contains certain fabrics from North American Free Trade Agreement partners Mexico and Canada. This provision encourages integration of the North and Central American textile industries, and is a step to prepare for an increasingly competitive global market.

Access to services: 

The Central American countries will accord substantial market access across their entire services regime, offering new access in sectors such as telecommunications, express delivery, computer and related services, tourism, energy, transport, construction and engineering, financial services, insurance, audio/visual and entertainment, professional, environmental, and other sectors. Central American countries have agreed to change 

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
U.S. trade czar Robert B. Zoellick on visit.

dealer protection regimes and loosen restrictions that lock U.S. firms into exclusive or inefficient distributor arrangements.

A trade agreement for the digital age: 

State-of-the-art protections and non-discriminatory treatment are provided for digital products such as U.S. software, music, text, and videos. Protections for U.S. patents, trademarks and trade secrets are strengthened.

Strong protections for worker rights: 

Goes beyond Chile and Singapore FTAs to create a three-part strategy on worker rights that will ensure effective enforcement of domestic labor laws, establish a cooperative program to improve labor laws and enforcement, and build the capacity of Central American nations to monitor and enforce labor rights.

An innovative environment chapter: 

Goes beyond Chile and Singapore free trade agreements in seeking to develop a robust public submissions process to ensure that views of civil society are appropriately considered, and for benchmarking of environmental cooperation activities and input from international organizations.

Strong protections for U.S. investors: 

The agreement establishes a secure, predictable legal framework for U.S. investors in Central America.

Open and fair government procurement:

Provides ground-breaking anti-corruption measures in government contracting. U.S. firms are guaranteed a fair and transparent process to sell goods and services to a wide range of Central American government entities.


 
Agricultural rules favor Costa Rica in the beginning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rules for agricultural products under a proposed free trade treaty show a lot more restrictions on imports into Costa Rica than on exports to the United States, according to data released by the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior.

Potatoes and onions as imports here are excluded altogether from the treaty, although Costa Rica can import such products to the United States freely. This is in deference to farmers here, mainly in the Cartago area.

Costa Rica, under terms of the proposed treaty, will be able to import to the United States pork, dark chicken meat, rice, refined oils of corn, cotton, soy and similar. But the reverse will not be true.

Pork from the U.S. will face a 1,000 metric ton annual quota that will increase 100 metric tons each of the first five years, 125 metric tons from year 6 to year 10 and 150 metric tons in years 11 to 14. Import duties will reduce over the 15 years until there is no duty or limit on imports from the U.S. after 15 years.

Beef imports, too, will have a decreasing import duty spread over 15 years with no decrease in duty for the first five years. However, high quality cuts of beef will become duty-free as soon at the treaty is ratified.

Rice imports into Costa Rica are limited to 50,000 metric tons of rice grain in the first year with 2 percent increments for 15 years. Ground rice is limited to 5,000 metric tons with a 5 percent increment. Duties are lifted completely in 20 years.

Milk products would be imported to Costa Rica without quotas, and the duties would be reduced over 20 years. That includes liquid milk, milk powder, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and other products with a high milk content. Imports from here to the United States face similar duties, also being eliminated over 20 years.

Refined oils from seeds being imported to Costa Rica will have duty reduced over 15 years but with no decrease in the first five years.

Costa Rica won a 13,000 metric ton additional quote for sugar and products that are mostly sugar. That is in addition to the 15,000 metric ton quota provided by the Caribbean Basin Initiative. This includes 2,000 metric tons of organic sugar. The U.S. sugar producers are a strong political force. For sugar imported into Costa Rica, U.S. exporters will have duties decreased over 15 years.

Duties on imports of ethanol to Costa Rica will be reduced over 15 years, too. But Costa Rica will be able to export 31 million gallons a year to the United States duty free.


 
Trade treaty was more than a year in the works
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush announced his intention to negotiate a free trade agreement with the Central American countries Jan. 16, 2002, at a speech before the Organization of American States. 

The administration worked with Congress throughout 2002 to secure Trade Promotion Authority. Congress enacted the Trade Act of 2002 in August 2002, and on Oct. 1, 2002, the administration notified Congress that it would begin the Central American negotiations.

Central American negotiations began in January 2003, and took place in nine rounds of negotiations. These negotiations took place in San Salvador, El Salvador; San José, Costa Rica; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Managua, Nicaragua; and in the U.S., Houston; New Orleans; Cincinnati; and finally, Washington. Agreement with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua was reached last  Dec. 17.

Costa Rica said at that time it needed to undertake further consultations at home before being able to move forward. U.S. and Costa Rican trade officials met in Washington Jan. 19 to 25 to reach the agreement announced Sunday. 

The United States began negotiations with the Dominican Republic earlier this month, and will seek to bring that country fully into the Central American agreement by March. Separately, the United States has also announced its intention to 

begin free-trade negotiations with Panamá, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. In the Americas, the United States current and in-process U.S. free-trade partners represent more than two-thirds of the hemisphere’s economy, not counting the U.S.

The United States is also working to conclude free-trade agreements with Australia and Morocco, and is continuing negotiations with five southern African countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland). Today the United States will begin free-trade negotiations with Bahrain, and in addition has announced its intention to negotiate an agreement with Thailand.

Ambassador praises negotiators

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

John J. Danilovich, the U.S. ambassador in Costa Rica, praised negotiators of all countries in the free trade pact with a statement Sunday.

"We recognize the extraordinary efforts and dedication displayed by all the negotiators to reach an accord that seeks to promote and improve the economic well being and the liberty of the all the signatories. . . ," he said.

The accord offers opportunities and progress for each country as well as for the region as a whole, he said. The agreement will encourage a better integration of commercial relations and bring prosperity and increase the opportunities for all the citizens of the region, he added.

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