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Western Sahara: yes or no?

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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 16:49   #1
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Western Sahara: yes or no?

So we have planned a trip to Morocco over Christmas, essentially on the basis that "it surely has some cool birds". Only after having the tickets we started researching it and it turned out, that there is this "Western Sahara" attached to it, seemingly freely accessible even with a rental car from Morocco. But it is a pain to find any non-conflicting advice about it, so I'd like to ask here.

- is it safe to go on our own? We'd just rent a car (two people) and drive around, sleeping preferably in a tent somewhere outside. I understand landmines are an issue, are the minefields marked or not? Is there actual threat of violent robberies or not? Sure, there is always the danger posed by the desert itself and car breakdowns, but that can be largely alleviated with having supplies and patience for rescue ...

- is there a chance to even find something independently? To me it seems that the main attractions would be Dunn's Lark and Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, with a possibility of a Cricket Longtail and Soudan Golden Sparrow, right?

In general, I think we would have a great time just in Morocco proper, but the very existence of Western Sahara doesn't let me rest peacefully :)
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 17:33   #2
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Safe, easy to visit independently and great birding ...but a long drive :)

Several trip reports out there to help you - mine HERE may assist to some degree.
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 18:47   #3
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Originally Posted by opisska View Post
So we have planned a trip to Morocco over Christmas, essentially on the basis that "it surely has some cool birds". Only after having the tickets we started researching it and it turned out, that there is this "Western Sahara" attached to it, seemingly freely accessible even with a rental car from Morocco. But it is a pain to find any non-conflicting advice about it, so I'd like to ask here.

- is it safe to go on our own? We'd just rent a car (two people) and drive around, sleeping preferably in a tent somewhere outside. I understand landmines are an issue, are the minefields marked or not? Is there actual threat of violent robberies or not? Sure, there is always the danger posed by the desert itself and car breakdowns, but that can be largely alleviated with having supplies and patience for rescue ...

- is there a chance to even find something independently? To me it seems that the main attractions would be Dunn's Lark and Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, with a possibility of a Cricket Longtail and Soudan Golden Sparrow, right?

In general, I think we would have a great time just in Morocco proper, but the very existence of Western Sahara doesn't let me rest peacefully :)
Will be cold in the desert at night at this time of year, we had frost on our sleeping bags in April when we went.

Don't forget Golden Nightjar!


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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 18:49   #4
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Safe, easy to visit independently and great birding ...but a long drive :)

Several trip reports out there to help you - mine HERE may assist to some degree.
Really interesting! Seems like you just camped every day along the Aousserd road - was the police bothering you again, or was the "you need a permit" an isolated incident? Is it possible to communicate in English with the police? I have zero knowledge of French, sadly.

One think that made me curious - please do not take that negatively - but you can just set traps for animals as you wish? I am pretty sure that would be highly illegal anywhere in Europe ...
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 18:50   #5
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Will be cold in the desert at night at this time of year, we had frost on our sleeping bags in April when we went.

Don't forget Golden Nightjar!


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I don't care about cold really. Heat is what I am worried about much more :) A little frost isn't an issue. The golden nightjars are present in winter?!
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 19:47   #6
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I don't care about cold really. Heat is what I am worried about much more :) A little frost isn't an issue. The golden nightjars are present in winter?!
You should at least try for them. They can be found in Mauritania in December and in Western Sahara at least in March. As far as I know they're not migratory so should be there in winter too.

Generally there are dozens of great trip reports online. Here are some
https://www.cloudbirders.com/triprep..._0102_2015.pdf
http://www.surfbirds.com/mb/trips/mo...-sahara-rb.pdf
https://www.cloudbirders.com/triprep...ra_02_2016.pdf
https://www.cloudbirders.com/triprep..._0405_2015.pdf
http://timsbirding.blogspot.de/2015/...-sahara_7.html

As you can see, even young birders can do this trip and I didn't find any negative experiences in these trip reports (apart from that one picture, where they call a pile of bones a "unlucky danish expedition" or something along the lines; not sure if it's a joke or if something really happened :S)

I think it is very possible to do Morocco on your own and quite possible to visit Western Sahara alone. But for better success you might want to contact Association Nature Initiative, who apparently are happy to help with birds such as Sudan Golden Sparrow and Namaqua Dove.
Also they know the places where mines lie, eventhough in a Punkbirders report they reported driving through supposedly mine infested regions but without any incidents.
Also I read, that hotels are really cheap, so it might be more comfortable to stay there in most nights (when you aren't searching for Nightjars in the middle of nowhere)

I too am planning to visit Morocco & Western Sahara in spring 2018, so I'll be happy to read your trip report. By the way, if there are any young birders out there reading this, who'd be interested to come along, please PM me!

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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 19:55   #7
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Trip reports here on bf, search term 'western sahara'

http://www.birdforum.net/search.php?searchid=17947809

Surprised there's only 4 (presumably replicated in sites linked in Maffong's post above), but there will be more Morocco.


How long have you got? You probably need a minimum of 2 weeks to do WS and Morocco some kind of justice if you intend to do the north AND the south. Plus as mentioned lots of mileage.

The landmine situation - yes there are areas, but even then the camels and Bedouin wander mostly at will throughout the areas you're likely to go, so not a problem in reality.

Nice place, worth visiting for sure!!
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 20:34   #8
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Yea, we've got two weeks. But from/to Mellila, so the mileage is ... even more significant :) But I think I felt in love with the whole Aoussserd thing, I just do have to see that area.

I consider camping more comfortable than a hotel (in particular than any hotel in an arabic country within my price range), but the reports are pretty positive about this aspect, so it seems quite fine.

In January I have driven 6600 km within one trip (albeit it had 21 days) and I have kinda decided that I am not gonna do that again ... guess I was wrong :)

The only thing that worries me is the talk about Bir Anzarane being a military location and thus posing risk of arrest with telescopes/cameras. This would be the exact kind of "danger" that I probably hate the most - hazy red tape. Everyone suggest to contact the ANI organisation, but I am not sure what to expect of them - their facebook is French and their webpage is not working. I might even be willing to pay for a guide if it is absolutely necessary, but I would really want to avoid falling into a "tour" kind of situation.
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 20:39   #9
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I was there two years ago (how the time flies). And I saw the Golden Nightjar - unfortunately a suicidal one flying off the the road, and then making a U-turn straight into the car.

Speaking from personal experience: it is safe. And the desert is not very wild - people are around. Landmines are not an issue except one marked place before Aousserd. In general, desert in any place you are likely to drive is full of tracks of cars and domestic animals, not ending in craters. We took it as a sign that it is safe. We however found a track of desert viper.

This trip report: Vlot 2014, gives you logistics. Be also sure to download their observation points from observado.org to your mobile.
go-south.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/R309-2014_04_vlot.pdf
Some more details are in the article in dutch birding:
https://www.dutchbirding.nl/journal/38/2#

Watch out for various pestering touts around Tamri, who talk constantly 'guardien-ibis-d'argent'. This is exactly what eco-tourism should not be. Afterwards we called any Moroccan 'guardien ibis'.

Main points in logistics are such: take 20 print-outs of your personal data and passport copies, to be handed over to police. You will find details in any trip report. Never speed on the road, for mad police with radars are hiding anywhere besides perhaps Dakhla-Aousserd road. A policeman can be in the middle of the desert, in a clump of bushes between lanes of the motorway etc. And the police car several kms away collects the fines. When approaching a marked police post, stop at the one distant stop sign, and wait to be waved in. Expect such a checkpoint near any settlement, also at night. Otherwise you can be fined.

Police in Aousserd are friendly. Young boys stationed in the middle of nowhere. Scopes and bins are not a problem.

When driving, time your logistics carefully. Arrive at Akhfenir/Kniffis half way between Morocco and Dakhla not in the afternoon and not at night. Otherwise you will have gulls straight into the sun, and this is a place for Kelp Gull, Greater-Black-backed Gull and Kelp Gull hybrids. We found the best place to be just south of village Akhfenir, where gulls were roosting at the beach and at the rubbish dumping place inland close by, on the opposite site of the road. Kniffis lagoon offers lousy, distant views.

Second logistic is to stock for supplies and petrol in Dakhla in such a way to be well in advance on the Dakhla-Aousserd road in the morning. Dakhla-Aousserd road takes a least 3 hours driving straight, and good places are near the end. Soon after sunrise it gets too hot and bird activity falls, although it may not be in winter. It is possible there is operating petrol station at Aousserd, but it may not be. You must check in situ. Otherwise you are in danger of stopping in the middle of the desert.

I really liked this place, lots of space, some wonderful rock formations, and scope to explore.

I hope somebody rents a 4WD in Dakhla, and explores not just the paved road, but many tracks going off the Dakhla-Aousserd road. They go in several places into the desert, and are likely to lead to undiscovered birding spots. For example rocky outcrops are the habitat which is not explorable from the road.

PS. And there is one thing which I was curious about. In the place we saw the nightjar, there was almost no vegetation, but plenty of noctuid-type moths. Is there such a thing as a moth migration in the desert?

PS2. A disclaimer - this is not an official advice. If you explode on a mine, get eaten by a sarlacc or whatever, don't blame me.

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Old Wednesday 7th December 2016, 21:42   #10
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I haven't read any trip reports recently, but have people been going beyond Assouerd? In 2013 we went c.20 or 40 km beyond before turning back (we made an effort to drive fuel-consciously).

What we were going to do, but didn't, was to buy a metal fuel can or two out there - that would increase the range/peace of mind aspect!

EDIT: It was 2011 - time flies!!

Morocco & W Sahara 2-16 Feb 2011
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Old Thursday 8th December 2016, 07:43   #11
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[EDIT: It was 2011 - time flies!!

Morocco & W Sahara 2-16 Feb 2011[/quote]

Oh, that was a fabulous trip, one of the best in my life! And Aousserd road was one of the best bit for me! Would like to repeat it once more.
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Old Thursday 8th December 2016, 08:13   #12
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So we have planned a trip to Morocco over Christmas, essentially on the basis that "it surely has some cool birds"
I'm off to Morocco at the end of Jan. It isn't really a birding trip, but i'm going to turn it into one...

Does anyone know of any ID guides for the region? I've had a look online and haven't had a great deal of luck, several 'places to go birding in Morocco' type books but no ID guides. Definitely going to read some of these trip reports

We will be in the Atlas mountain so unfortunately I can't offer any info on the western Sahara.
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Old Thursday 8th December 2016, 09:35   #13
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I'm off to Morocco at the end of Jan. It isn't really a birding trip, but i'm going to turn it into one...

Does anyone know of any ID guides for the region? I've had a look online and haven't had a great deal of luck, several 'places to go birding in Morocco' type books but no ID guides. Definitely going to read some of these trip reports

We will be in the Atlas mountain so unfortunately I can't offer any info on the western Sahara.
The Collins guide (Svensson) covers everything you might encounter in Morocco proper, barring "1st in WP"-type rarities.
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Old Thursday 8th December 2016, 14:01   #14
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The Collins guide (Svensson) covers everything you might encounter in Morocco proper, barring "1st in WP"-type rarities.
That's brilliant news, cheers.

Hope you have a great trip out there
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Old Thursday 8th December 2016, 20:21   #15
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have people been going beyond Assouerd?
In 2015 soldiers stopped us, saying it is unsafe. However this year some local people went there, also at night and found two more localities of Golden Nightjar. Perhaps it varies, and also depends if you can talk to locals.

There is an open paved road going from Dakhla all the way south to the Mauritanian border, which has never been explored by birders. I only read reports that this is the place to see wild dorcas gazelles, and somewhere there there is a side road for a 4WD where ANI has a reserve to reintroduce ostriches and antelope. This is another area waiting to be explored.

I am sure Dakhla area will produce many more megas in a Western Palearctic scale. I would like to return there and have time for more exploration birding.
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Old Friday 9th December 2016, 18:03   #16
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In 2015 soldiers stopped us, saying it is unsafe. However this year some local people went there, also at night and found two more localities of Golden Nightjar. Perhaps it varies, and also depends if you can talk to locals.

There is an open paved road going from Dakhla all the way south to the Mauritanian border, which has never been explored by birders. I only read reports that this is the place to see wild dorcas gazelles, and somewhere there there is a side road for a 4WD where ANI has a reserve to reintroduce ostriches and antelope. This is another area waiting to be explored.

I am sure Dakhla area will produce many more megas in a Western Palearctic scale. I would like to return there and have time for more exploration birding.
So you think the road is worth blindly exploring? We may as well do that if we manage to get to Dakhla :)
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Old Friday 9th December 2016, 19:40   #17
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I would have to strongly recommend that you check with your governments travel advice. The last time I heard of it our foreign office suggested that travel beyond Assoerd was dangerous due to the high risk of kidnap and the likelyhood of coming across unexploded mines. It certainly put my friend and I off. (Though oddly did not stop us seeing cricket warbler and the various larks at oued jenna) early on this year. Our driver from the nature association refused to risk all of our lives by going down certain tracks into the desert which was quite alright by us. In other words, do not go at this gung-ho but best to do a lot of research first and worth contacting the locals for advice.

regards Howard
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Old Friday 9th December 2016, 20:15   #18
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So you think the road is worth blindly exploring?
No, don't close your eyes when driving. Check security advice beforehand and remember you are responsible for your own safety. Naturally, stay clear of any metal or plastic things protruding from the sand (but we saw none). Check any places with vegetation or any water for birds.

You may call ANI for detailed advice, at least part of their crew there spoke English. This is probably the safest option.

However we felt safe to drive everywhere where we didn't see a warning sign or got turned back and the road was paved. We also wandered on foot anywhere where we saw on sand the tracks of cars, people or livestock - the latter were pretty much everywhere there was vegetation.

Drive south to Dakhla can be tiring, especially as you cannot speed. But you pass several wadis with waterbirds, and we spotted a pair of Barbary Falcons from the car.

PS. Of course, it is not completely safe, don't blame me if something happens to you. But birders go there.

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Old Saturday 10th December 2016, 19:28   #19
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If you mean the paved road from Dakhla south to Barabas. There is little else possible than stocking in petrol and checking any birds on the desert and on the sea. This road is 234 mile long, 4 hour driving from Dakhla to the border of Mauritania. At the end, you are 45 km north of the border of Afrotropics. I know of no bird trip report from there.
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 16:11   #20
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Honestly, I haven't been so excited about a trip for a long time. Dakhla is such a mystical place - I am pretty sure it's not gonna live to the hype when I finally get to look around the actual place. But just look at the map - it's 400 km south of Canary Islands, it's next door to Mauretania, it's a (mildly) disputed territory ... it really is the perfect silly destination. And we are gonna reach it on the ground from Malaga, that's also some insane thought.

I have been in the oil fields on the Iran/Iraq border, I have watched camels grazing on desert grass in Afghanistan from over the river, but man, Western Sahara is the shit!
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Old Tuesday 13th December 2016, 18:22   #21
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Hi, why don't you simply skype the Czech (Polish?) consulate in Rabat and ask? They are for it.

We saw plenty of caravans from France, Spain and Morocco on Dakhla bay. It is the spot for kitesurfing. Also, if anything is dangerous, they will probably turn you at the police checkpoint, they are a bit paranoid about foreigners.
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Old Thursday 19th January 2017, 15:28   #22
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Thanks again for making this great trip possible. The report is now live - http://www.birdforum.net/showthread....79#post3513879
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Old Tuesday 21st February 2017, 09:58   #23
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Good day to all

I am new on the forum, and I read carefully this thread. I have been living in Dakhla since 2.5 years and I drove about 10k km in the area just talking about off-road - I set up a small tourist business here in Dakhla with the aim of making people discover the region its people and especially nature.

Would like to give my advice and humble opinion about the situation here - please be assured I am not trying to sell you my services, I just want to share with you my experience being on the field.

Despite what the various government safety reports contain, I never felt so safe as here. Military, Gendarmerie Royal and Police check-points are along the main roads and coast, for our own safety and to make sure that nothing will happen – they are always very friendly as long as “our” attitude towards them is friendly.

Offically wild camping along the coast and everywhere else in Morocco is not allowed, however camping in the bush or on the beach is not a big deal. Along the coast there are small military “camp” about every about 5 km, instead of stopping and setting up a tent, just go there have a quick chat and ask for “permission” they usually are happy to have some people around and they won´t create problems. Also they can have a look on you during the night . Same applies if you go somewhere else inside. Doesn’t matter if is Aousserd of Bir Anzarane direction.



Quote:
@ dantheman
The landmine situation - yes there are areas, but even then the camels and Bedouin wander mostly at will throughout the areas you're likely to go, so not a problem in reality.
Quote:
@jurek
Speaking from personal experience: it is safe. And the desert is not very wild - people are around. Landmines are not an issue except one marked place before Aousserd. In general, desert in any place you are likely to drive is full of tracks of cars and domestic animals, not ending in craters. We took it as a sign that it is safe. We however found a track of desert viper.

WAIT!!! … land mind are a real issue, never ever take for granted that if there is a pist it’s safe! I have spotted land mines AP at least in 3 places for now, ERW (explosive remnants of war ) are possible to be found too.

Saharawi´s, camels, goats are surely wandering around but at least the 1st know where to go! And even them they might have problems – due to rain this October, and the consequent movement of sand, recently a Land Rover blown up between Bir Anzarane and Aousserd – what is safe today might not be safe tomorrow, although in general terms there are areas which might be considered as safe and other that are very dangerous.

So please, for your own and other people´s safety, do not consider this region safe on land mines unless you do not know it well. Even if I did around 10k km off roading in the region I still use guides and locals advices if I have to move in any area I don’t know!

Mind that very often and for military reasons land mines fields are not marked - and to be honest de-mining is not a priority here for the time being


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The only thing that worries me is the talk about Bir Anzarane being a military location and thus posing risk of arrest with telescopes/cameras. This would be the exact kind of "danger" that I probably hate the most - hazy red tape. Everyone suggest to contact the ANI organisation, but I am not sure what to expect of them - their facebook is French and their webpage is not working. I might even be willing to pay for a guide if it is absolutely necessary, but I would really want to avoid falling into a "tour" kind of situation.
There is no issue with telescopes/cameras, as long as you don’t watch/shot at military, police, government buildings etc etc … they know what tourists are … keep your camera/telescope out of sight during check-points, it make your life easier … common sense to apply I would say.

ANI people are nice and friendly, not sure they speak English though (we know them) ... surely French and Spanish are on their books, but English might be kinda very very basic, a bit like my arabic :)

Be reassured in Dakhla and in all the regions, as of now, there are no real “tour” kind of situation” – everything that can be organized here is done on request and nothing is standardized.

There is a very limited number of people that work with “tours” in the desert and can help you with logistics etc – surely if you wanna travel solo then better to stick on the road and where alongside it.


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There is an open paved road going from Dakhla all the way south to the Mauritanian border, which has never been explored by birders. I only read reports that this is the place to see wild dorcas gazelles, and somewhere there there is a side road for a 4WD where ANI has a reserve to reintroduce ostriches and antelope. This is another area waiting to be explored.
ANI did a great job with the reserve, although they have still to fight with poaching and is becoming a serious issue.

The road to Guerguerat is all tarmac since years now, last place where to lodge is Bir Gadouz or Barbas as some call it here. Southern than that there is the pist that brings to Safia at the Reserve but that area is highly dangerous for what mines concern. Also ANI lost a car and had injured people some years ago in that region – and they are LOCALS … so again please be careful where you put your tires.

I hope you might find what you are looking for and that this area will be explored/visited more from everyone loving birding and any kind of nature observations, we did lot of spotlighting at night, looking for mammals, reptiles etc and in the right condition can be really rewarding - May 2016 and January 2017 we have been lucky enough to spot wild gazelles - we spotted Orcas in the bay in May 2016 as well many other species.


I will be at anyone's´s disposal if interested to get more general or specific information.



cheers
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