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On Western Sahara, ICP Obtains Ross' Briefing to UNSC, Here

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, December 8 -- After the UN Security Council convened for a closed door meeting about Western Sahara on December 8, neither the briefer, UN envoy Christopher Ross, nor any other official or ambassador came to speak at the televised Security Council stakeout. Inner City Press had asked the UN to ask Ross to "do a stakeout," but none happened.

 Here now is the text of Ross' briefing to the Council's closed door meeting, which Inner City Press has exclusively obtained and put online here:

"Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara

Madam President, Distinguished Members of the Council,
I’m pleased to come before you today to report on developments since my last briefing.

The negotiating process meant to facilitate a solution to the conflict over Western Sahara remains  stalemated.  Even though the situation in the Middle East-North Africa-Sahel regions presents real dangers, events have had little if any impact on the positions of the various actors.  Meanwhile, the refugees in the camps near Tindouf are facing new tribulations as a result of heavy rains and serious flooding.  The peoples of the Maghreb for their part continue to suffer from the absence of regional integration and cooperation.  This has consequences far beyond North Africa, in particular due to the lack of joint action on security issues.

After 40 years, the need for a solution is more urgent than ever, and the Secretary-General has paid increased attention to this issue.  He considers that, if left unresolved, this situation may constitute a “time-bomb” whose effects could spiral well beyond any single actor’s ability to control.  He has asked me to intensify my efforts.  To add his own weight to this process, he is planning to visit the region as early as January.

Secretary-General’s analysis and intensified efforts

Let me turn briefly to the main developments since last April. In June, the Secretary-General sent letters to both King Mohammed VI and Secretary-General Abdelaziz restating his personal commitment to promoting progress in the negotiating process, particularly in light of worrisome developments in the region.
He stressed that the situation in North Africa is worsening due to threats posed by extremists and terrorists operating beyond borders, growing frustrations among all ages in the refugee camps, and increased regional tensions.  Among youth in the camps, the lack of progress and the absence of employment make them targets for recruitment by extremist groups.  In addition, developments in both Libya and Mali, whose borders are only a few hundred kilometres away from the nearest refugee camp, could have an impact in Western Sahara and in Morocco, as they already have at In Amenas in Algeria.  While these dynamics were evident last spring, they have now become even more pronounced.

I have, as the Secretary-General requested, intensified my efforts to elicit new ideas to explore through shuttle diplomacy in preparation for the resumption of face-to-face meetings between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front in the presence of the two neighbouring states, Algeria and Mauritania, as observers in accordance with the agreed Manhasset formula.  To this end, I visited the region three times in September, October, and November.  Unfortunately, these efforts have not borne any real fruit to date.  The Polisario has confirmed that it is ready to resume face-to-face talks even in the absence of new ideas.  Morocco remains unready to do so without significant preparation through shuttle diplomacy.

During my visit to Rabat in September, my interlocutors questioned the Secretary-General’s assessment that rapid progress in the negotiations is needed to face the potential dangers that the region faces.  In Morocco’s view, the situation remains under control, and the focus should remain on an unhurried and “serene” negotiating process.

In this regard, Morocco set forth its own definition of the purpose of the process.  As the Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry stated in September, the basis of the process must remain what he calls the “2004 understanding”.  According to this purported understanding, what the Council has intended in calling for a “political solution” is an agreement that does not bring the status of Western Sahara into question, inasmuch as “the Sahara is already Moroccan.”  The notion that the territory is already Moroccan and that all that is left to discuss are merely the details of Morocco’s autonomy initiative was reiterated on my subsequent visits.

In September, as a “new idea” to explore in shuttle diplomacy, my Moroccan interlocutors suggested that Algeria be brought into the negotiations in a formal way.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs reiterated this to me during my two subsequent visits, insisting that my priority must be to bring Algeria to the negotiating table as a formal party or at least as an “actor” and that no progress will be possible until I succeed.  In October, as a second “new idea” that could be explored, my interlocutors suggested that I ask Algeria and the Polisario to provide the legal basis of their positions on self-determination.

In November, a major subject of discussion in Rabat was the interview that the Minister of Foreign Affairs had given to the Spanish news agency, EFE, which cited him as saying that I could no longer travel to Western Sahara.  Various Moroccan interlocutors, including the Minister-Delegate of Foreign Affairs speaking to the British Ambassador in Rabat, have suggested that in fact I can do so.
Clear-cut confirmation must await my next proposal to travel there.

Turning to my meetings in Rabouni, my Polisario interlocutors also set forth their own understanding of Council intentions, reiterating their insistence that the only way the Council’s call for an agreement that will provide for self-determination can be implemented is through a referendum with multiple options.  However, they expressed their readiness to enter discussions on a more flexible basis, no longer insisting on a referendum up front, assuming that Morocco was ready to show like flexibility. 
This position, which remains to be tested, was further reiterated by the Secretary-General of the Polisario when I met him late in November.

In my exchanges in October, I conveyed Morocco’s interest in the Polisario’s position on “self determination”, but my interlocutors dismissed this as a further effort to blur the focus of the process.
Referring to UN General Assembly resolutions, they maintained that the Polisario is in line with the UN in this regard and need not justify itself.

While in Rabouni, I took the opportunity to enrich my understanding of the realities of life in the refugee camps by meeting with representatives of NGOs and Sahrawi youth.  Young people represent both the potential and the dangers involved in this conflict.  As the prospects of reaching a political solution through diplomacy fade, some are searching for other options, even speaking openly about resuming military action. 
Indeed, several Polisario leaders warned that, while the Polisario remains committed to the UN process, pressure from the military and the younger generations, in particular during the forthcoming congress, may force a change of approach and even bring the ceasefire with Morocco into question.

In October, I also visited three of the five camps severely hit by rains and subsequent flooding.   Ms. Bolduc will provide details of the widespread damage sustained, as well as of the international effort required to deal with it.

Turning now to Algeria, the President received me in November and indicated that his country’s “immutable position” of support for Western Saharan self-determination will not change.  He confirmed what the Minister of State and Foreign Affairs had stated on earlier occasions reiterating Algeria’s refusal to join the negotiating process as a formal party.  The Minister of State himself further rejected any efforts to “bilateralise” the Western Sahara conflict as an issue between Algeria and Morocco, recalling that since 1975 the conflict has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front.

The Minister of State responded to Morocco’s query on self-determination by stating that Algeria remains attached to that right as the UN has defined it and that he sees no need to elaborate.  He did indicate, however, that his country remains ready to assist the parties once they are ready to make progress, but will refrain from taking any initiatives itself, since on previous occasions Morocco had interpreted informal exchanges on various possible outcomes as constituting “Algerian proposals”.   

In Nouakchott, I met with the Prime Minister on two occasions, as well as with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Minister-Delegate.  All reiterated Mauritania’s long-standing position of “positive neutrality” regarding the negotiating process.  The Prime Minister also warned that the stability of the region could be seriously undermined were the Western Sahara issue to remain unaddressed for much longer. 

Consultations outside the region

Since April, I have also held extensive consultations with international stakeholders.  I visited Madrid and Paris twice, as well as London and Washington.  I am looking forward to visiting Moscow soon. 

All of these stakeholders have agreed with the Secretary-General’s analysis regarding the dangerous dynamics of the region, including the need to take the growing frustration in the refugee camps seriously.  They have also all been very generous in reiterating their support for my mission.  On this occasion, I again express my appreciation for the crucial assistance that the Spanish government provides for my visits to the region by making available an aircraft of the Royal Air Force.


By way of conclusion, I note again that, during my various exchanges, different interpretations of the purpose of my mission and the scope of my mandate have been expressed.  To restore clarity, the Secretary-General reiterated his understanding of the process in his statement of 4 November.
He emphasized that the purpose of the negotiating process is to reach an agreement on the definitive status of Western Sahara and that he has directed me to intensify my efforts to facilitate the entry of the parties into negotiations without preconditions and in good faith to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.  He noted that the discussions that followed the presentation of proposals from Morocco and the Polisario in 2007 had not led to genuine negotiations, and he urged all concerned within the region and the broader international community to work for the launching of true negotiations in the months to come.

This guidance is very timely.  The increased interest of the international community in addressing the conflict over Western Sahara is evident and welcome, but much more can be done by means of a sustained effort by this Council and the wider international community to persuade the parties to embark on genuine negotiations.

By the same token, a reiteration of this Council’s support for my freedom of movement, as expressed in a previous meeting, will be critical in enabling me to remain familiar with conditions in Western Sahara and in preventing the establishment of an unsound precedent.

I look forward to remaining in touch with Council members as we work together to convince the parties to enter into genuine negotiations without preconditions as soon as possible. Thank you."

 On December 8, the Security Council meeting scheduled right after Western Sahara, about Turkey and Iraq, drew the larger crowd.

This remained true afterward, when correspondents crowded around the ambassadors of Russia, Iraq and Turkey. Behind them, Inner City Press saw and Periscoped, France's Deputy Permanent Representative Alexis Lamek whispered with the Moroccan diplomats who'd waited at the stakeout, in what's called the Turkish Lounge.

 The UN itself has to some degree dropped the ball. Inner City Press got confirmed, not from the UN, that Ban Ki-moon was slated to visit on November 25-27 but then canceled, so he could go to North Korea (which he ended up not doing). Priorities. It's worth noting, and we do, that Morocco invited Ban back in November. And now, with Ross? Watch this site.

After the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's envoy on Western Sahara Christopher Ross was quoted that Ban will travel there in early 2016, Ban's spokesman would not confirm it to Inner City Press. From the November 24 UN noon briefing, video here, transcript below.

 On December 7, after UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq offered a canned answer on Western Sahara, Inner City Press asked why Ross hadn't gone there, and if Ban canceled a visit in November. Transcript here:

UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq: we provided the details of Christopher Ross’ recent visit to the region, where he visited Algeria, Morocco and Tindouf.  The way that he proceeds with his travel, of course, is according to his own discretion, and we have defended and continue to defend his right to travel throughout, including to all of Western Sahara.  There are some areas that he didn't visit this time around, but that, again, like I said, is at his discretion, and we will continue to insist upon his freedom to visit those areas.

Inner City Press: I wanted to follow up on the Western Sahara.  Given that the Moroccan foreign minister was quoted publicly in EFE and there was a whole Security Council meeting basically about that quote, can you… what does it mean that he didn't try to go?  It seems to be kind of a concession that he couldn't go, as many people… some people read it.  And I wanted to ask you one separate question.  You can answer them both at once.  Can you confirm that the Secretary-General was, in fact, going to visit Western Sahara and had received Moroccan approval in November but, due to his own schedule, did not go?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, on Christopher Ross, as I explained to Ali just now, we defend his right to visit throughout the territory all the places that are part of his mandate.  This is a mandate, mind you, that was given to him by the Security Council, which also has defended his right to conduct his work in accordance with his mandate.  In terms of the judgment calls that he makes as he goes about his travels, it's his own decisions as a professional diplomat to determine how to go about his schedule, but he knows, in doing that, that he is free to go where he is… where he intends to, and that we support that.  Regarding the Secretary-General, no, we don't have any plans to visit Western Sahara to announce on his behalf.

Inner City Press:  And can Christopher Ross speak to the press after his briefing tomorrow?  Can you at least ask him for that because there seems to be some confusion.

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll certainly check.  That's his choice, of course, but we'll check. 

  Back on November 24:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about Western Sahara.  You gave the readout of Mr. Ross being in Algeria and on the move.  You may have seen it.  There’s a report by EFE from Algiers saying Christopher Ross confirmed on Tuesday that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit the territory in the coming months in an attempt to give impetus to the peace process.  So I know that you’ve said… I mean, he is Mr. Ross.  He is the envoy.

Spokesman:  He is Mr. Ross.

Inner City Press:  Was he misquoted?

Spokesman:  I don’t know if he’s misquoted.  But what I can tell you is that any travel by the Secretary-General is confirmed from this podium in a statement, and that’s what I would say.

On November 18, nine days after Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman about Morocco's foreign minister saying UN envoy Christoper Ross couldn't or shouldn't visit the desert areas of Western Sahara, the UN Security Council finally met about it. was the first to report it, mid-afternoon on November 18, as four Moroccan diplomats huddled outside the Security Council consultations, click here for that

 When the Security Council's President for November Matthew Rycroft of the UK emerged with a "Press Element" about the Security Council supporting Ross, and after a question which did not provide any insight into what the Council was saying, Inner City Press asked Rycroft to confirm that the Moroccan minister's comments, that Ross can't visit, had been raised in the Council.

 Yes, he said, and the result is the statement of support for Ross.

 Inner City Press understands that Security Council member Venezuela raised the issue, stating that waiting for Ross' briefing in two or three weeks was not good enough. (Angola's Permanent Representative, it was pointed out, was in Washington DC with his minister.)

  Speaking for Morocco, Inner City Press is informed, was not its main sponsor France -- they like to not be seen in this role, instead using their "implicit" veto, here -- but rather Jordan. Has Jordan been active on the Western Sahara issue? Or is this a question of Kingdoms?

 Even supports of Morocco - and Inner City Press does speak with them -- have said Morocco's current foreign minister is "not the brightest bulb," as one of them put it.

  The UN has been charged with holding a referendum in Western Sahara, but has yet to do it. In October, when there is usually a Security Council briefing about Western Sahara, there was none.

 Inner City Press was told it was because UN Envoy Christopher Ross was "in the region." Other sources tell Inner City Press the King of Morocco declined to meet with Ross, preferring to wait out the UN, or at least under the next Secretary General (and next US President).

  Still other sources told Inner City Press the King would travel to Western Sahara on November 6; they call it a provocation. Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it; he said he might have something later.

  After the King did visit Western Sahara, and as summarized rejected ceding anything toward a referendum; Ban Ki-moon said... nothing.

  On November 9, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman:

Inner City Press: the foreign minister of Morocco, Salaheddine Mezouar, told EFE that Mr. Ross cannot visit the, quote, desert regions of Western Sahara by order of the Moroccan Government.  So is he going to?  I guess I want to ask you to tailor this generic statement to the foreign minister saying…  [cross talk]

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:  What I'm saying… what I said to Ali, which I will repeat, is that, while he has no immediate plans to visit Western Sahara, he has a right to do so, and that right should not be open to question, whether it's the scope of Mr. Ross' work and his range of activities are set forth by the relevant Security Council resolutions and the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press:  Right.  So… I guess what I'm just saying is, was this statement that you're reading, this is… you're aware of this Moroccan foreign minister statement?

Spokesman:  You've asked me a question.  I've answered it.

Inner City Press:  Okay.

Spokesman:  My answer is a direct response to the question you've asked.

  Before the King's trip, wwhen Ban Ki-moon was touring a photo exhibition in the same UN lobby where now indicted Ng Lap Seng sponsored events (even Wednesday night there was another, trying to sell seats at Ban's table at a Wall Street event in December for $6,000), the UN issued a statement.

On November 5, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Dujarric, video here, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: On the Western Sahara statement yesterday, two questions.  Is the Secretary-General aware of a plan by the King of Morocco to actually visit Western Sahara on 6 November, which many people, some people call it a provocation, some people say it's totally within his rights but…?

Spokesman:  I've seen those press reports.

Inner City Press:  Is the statement in some way related to that?  What's his message to the King of Morocco in terms of actually going?

Spokesman:  I think the message to the, the message to the parties, I think, is very much in the message.  It's not a statement to the King of Morocco or to the Front Polisario.  It's a message to the partiers to mark the sombre anniversary of 40 years of unresolved conflict.

Inner City Press:  But is a visit by the king at this time helpful to what the statement is trying-- ?

Spokesman:  I think we'll… we may have more to say on that later.

Inner City Press:  Okay.  And also on this, is it true that Mr. Ross, in the course of his journeys, has been unable to meet with the King of Morocco?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I will see when his last time was.

On October 9 when the UN's Fourth Committee took up the “question of Western Sahara," the first order of business was a procedural fight about who could testify, on what request and on what topic. The speakers, over several rounds, were Morocco and Senegal on the one hand, Algeria and Uganda on the other.

Uganda, when on the Security Council and otherwise, believes there should be a referendum on independence in Western Sahara; Senegal apparently does not.

  Inner City Press ran to cover the dispute, but UN Security said it couldn't enter through the main entrance to Conference Room 4, but to enter the gallery through the UN lobby. But that gallery door was locked. Finally from a media booth about the Conference Room, Inner City Press filmed and tweeted as Moroccan diplomats worked the room, running over to speak with Cote d'Ivoire for example.

 After it was resolved - the witness would speak, but should focus on Western Sahara - two countries got up and left: Burundi and Burkina Faso. They had apparently come to support Morocco, or France. They left before the first speaker on Western Sahara (who in his first line called it Moroccan Sahara). There will be more sessions: watch this site.

  There was also testimony about French nuclear tests in French Polynesia, New Caledonia and several rounds between Spain and the UK about Gibraltar: is it or is it not a tax haven? The room was emptying out. This will be continued.

  In advance of the Western Sahara session in the UN's Fourth Committee, SADR Foreign Minister Ould Salak spoke and took questions at Independent Diplomat on 20th Street in Manhattan on October 8.  In his opening he said France uses it veto on the UN Security Council to block human rights monitoring. Inner City Press asked him about the denial of that by France and its previous Ambassador to the UN, now to Washington. Ould Salak replied that France uses the “Group of Friends” -- the P5 minus China but plus Spain -- so it doesn't have to openly use its veto.

  This puts France's “veto restraint” proposals in a different light - but we'll have more on that in a separate story. In this piece, written at ID on 20th Street, we note that Carne Ross called it the “Group of Enemies” of Western Sahara, and the worst form of diplomacy.

   AFP asked if Ban is going to Western Sahara -- seems Morocco is blocking it (with Ban Ki-moon, it doesn't take much); a Spanish journalists asked about the role of Spain, on which he hope to have more. The Security Council was meeting about Haiti, with its own colonial history. We'll have more on this.

  The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, which has yet to hold any referendum, was unanimously "renewed" for a year back on April 28, 2015 by the UN Security Council. Inner City Press published Explanation(s) of Vote, below.

   On September 25 when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Spain's King Felipe VI, the UN said Ban "emphasized the need for a renewed push to resolve the situation in Western Sahara." Full readout below. Ban also raised Western Sahara with the President of Mauritania. The word "human rights" was not in either read-out. Here's Spain:

"The Secretary-General met today with H.M. King Felipe VI of Spain. They discussed a number of global challenges, including sustainable development and climate change.The Secretary-General thanked Spain for its support for the UN’s efforts in Libya. He also commended Spain for its role in the Security Council. Finally, the Secretary-General emphasized the need for a renewed push to resolve the situation in Western Sahara."

 There was some "pool" color, concluding that "speaking in English, but hardly audible, Ban and the Spanish King mentioned the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. Felipe VI was wearing today a lapel pin with the logo of the event. "

 And here's Mauritania:

"The Secretary-General met today with H.E. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The Secretary-General expressed appreciation for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and requested Mauritania’s active support in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
"The Secretary–General and President Abdel Aziz discussed the security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel and the need to enhance regional cooperation to address terrorism, displacement, migration and illegal trafficking. The Secretary-General stressed the urgency of resolving the question of Western Sahara and thanked Mauritania for its continued support to the mediation process.  [He also commended Mauritania’s efforts to promote an inclusive political dialogue in Niger.]"

  And on human rights monitoring? And on Anders Kompass?

Update: the bracketed final line was removed two hours later by the UN.
  Back in April, Venezuela said human rights monitoring should have been included, and the African Union should have been allowed to address the Council. Angola, citing Chad and Nigeria as well, echoed this.

  Afterward Inner City Press asked Moroccan Permanent Representative Omar Hilale a series of questions: about what Venezuela said, about the African Union, injured protesters, and why Frente Polisario couldn't speak at the same microphone.

  Hilale asked if Venezuela was the right country to speak of human rights.  Here now is Inner City Press' transcription of Venezuela's explanation of vote:

"The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has voted in favor of the resolution renewing the mandate of MINURSO. MINURSO, as we are convinced of its important role in supervising the cease fire, reducing the threat of unexploded ordnance and mines, fostering confidence building measures between the parties in order to bring about the referendum, that is in step with the primary mandate in step with Resolution 690 of 1991. These efforts and the facilitation and the efforts deployed by the Secretary General are aimed at bringing about an agreement between the parties. MINURSO, to support this, must continue to provide its support to a series of assistance programs aimed at addressing the difficult situation faced by the Sahrawi families that are separated, in many cases, also breathing a new life into direct negotiations between the Polisario Front and Morocco.
"However, we wish to express certain concerns over the procedure used in the drafting of the resolution we have adopted. We are presented a text that was previously agreed upon by the Group of Friends of Western Sahara, which did not address the legitimate concerns and proposals that were made by numerous countries that are interested in this issue, Venezuela among them. These proposals were aimed at strengthening the role of MINURSO and the promotion and protection of human rights of the population in the Western Sahara, bearing in mind the recommendations made by the Secretary General in his report and the features of all the UN missions. It is necessary, then, that the future negotiation processes on the matter before us sees an improvement in the working methods with the aim of helping to bring about a broad discussion that is inclusive and transparent.
"In the context of the proposals made, the amendment that sought to increase the regularity of the review of the topic by the Council was not taken on board. There is also one aimed at reaffirming the responsibilities of this body in bringing about a fair and lasting solution to the situation in Western Sahara, through the holding of a referendum on self determination, that would allow for a process of decolonization, a situation that has has lasted for more than four decades. It is essential that we ensure the implementation of resolution 690 of 1991, which set forth for, provided for the holding of the referendum.
"We are concerned that without a referendum, the process of colonizing Western Sahara will continue including the deterioration of human rights for the Sahrawi people and the illegal exploitation of their natural resources, all of this to the detriment of stability and peace in the region. Further, we lament that the consultations held on this topic were not proceeded by an open meeting in which we could ensure the participation of the special envoy of the African Union for Western Sahara, the former president Joaquim Chissano.
"In the light of the request from that regional organization which, together with the United Nations, is facilitating the negotiation process between the parties, it is a paradox that there is exclusion from the dialogues in this body of a strategic UN ally in the efforts to find solutions to conflicts that affect peace and security in the African continent. We hope that the Council can correct this omission in the short term.
"To conclude, we should like to reiterate the responsibility that this Council has in working with resolve toward a fair and lasting solution to the colonial situation endured by the Sahrawi people, solving it with a move towards self determination in including the option of independence pursuant to international law and working, with resolve, towards a fair and lasting solution according to to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter."

And from China, as transcribed by Inner City Press:

"Thank you Madam President. China supports the extension of the mandate of the UN mission for the referendum of Western Sahara and hopes that the mission will continue to play a constructive role in stabilizing the situation in Western Sahara and assisting the implementation of confidence building measures.

China’s position on the question of Western Sahara is consistent and remains unchanged. Based on the above, China has voted in favor of Resolution 2118, adopted by the Council just now.
China knows that some Council members have concerns about the resolution. While the council members were having consultations on this resolution there should have been more time arranged for it, and there should have been more patience, so as to listen extensively to different opinions, and through more sufficient consultations seek a maximum consensus and get the widest support. I thank you."

 UNlike China, Morocco's Hilale called the African Union "toxic" on this issue, saying that having made up it mind the AU should not address the Council.

  Inner City Press asked how this is different, say, from the European Union addressing the Council about Kosovo. (Hilale said every situation is different: the old "sui generis").

  Inner City Press asked why Polisario couldn't speak at the UNSC stakeout where, for example, private citizen Hilary Clinton recently did. Hilale said Hilary Clinton is with a member state. But so are a lot of people.


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