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Conflict Weekly
Another Conflict in Ethiopia and a Stalemate in Niger

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #190, 24 August 2023, Vol.4, No.34
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and the India Office of the KAS

Anu Maria Joseph, Jerry Franklin and Shamini Velayudham

Ethiopia: Another conflict in Amhara
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 22 August, Reuters reported on the Ethiopian government’s referendum plan to decide the status of the disputed territory between the Tigray and Amhara regions. The government announced its decision to dissolve the “illegal administration” in the region run by Amharas, one of the two largest ethnolinguistic groups of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Minister of Defence Abraham Belay stated: "In those areas where an illegal administration was created, it will be dissolved." Abraham added: "The ENDF [Ethiopian National Forces] will ensure there are not any other armed forces except the federal security forces."

The latest development came after clashes broke out on 2 August between Ethiopian federal forces and the Fano, a regional militia in Amhara. The tensions soured over the claim by Amhara nationalists that the government’s decision to dismantle all regional forces would weaken the Amhara’s defences.

A state of emergency has been declared in Amhara since 04 August. On 11 August, the US, the UK along with Japan, Australia, and New Zealand released a joint statement, expressing concerns that the violence in the Amhara and Oromia regions “have resulted in civilian deaths and instability.”

On 15 August, Al Jazeera reported that at least 23 people were killed in a suspected air strike carried out by Ethiopian federal forces in the Amhara region. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration resorted to the heavy deployment of troops and airpower to contain the violence. Meanwhile, on 16 August, residents of the Oromia region accused the government forces of killing at least 10 civilians, where it is fighting against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel group.

On 18 August, BBC Africa reported that many Amharas have been restricted from travelling to the capital, Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called on the conflicting parties to “immediately end" all alleged human rights violations.

Issues at large
First, Ethiopia’s ethnic groups and militias. Ethiopian ethnic groups including Tigrayans, Oromos, Amharas, Somalis and Afars lead in terms of demography and landscape; however, there are other minority ethnic groups as well. Tigrayans constitute six per cent of the population and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is an ethno-nationalist militia led by Tigrayans. Oromos are the majority constituting 34 per cent of the population. The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is an armed opposition group led by the Oromo ethnic group. The Amharas constitute 27 per cent of the population. Fano is an ethnic militia led by the Amharas. The Afars constitute one per cent of the population and the Afar Liberation Front (ALF) is an ethnic militia led by the group. Somalis constitute five per cent of the population. The Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) is an ethnic militia led by Somalis. Each ethnic group and their militias fight against the marginalisation by various Ethiopian governments or for self-determination.

Second, Ethiopia’s complex ethnic federalism. Ethiopia is divided into ten federal states along ethnic lines. Ethnicity has been a central feature of Ethiopian politics. Deep ethno-nationalist sentiments within each federal unit are often drivers of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic clashes. Ethnic federalism additionally ignited a power struggle among the Tigray, the Amhara, and the Oromo. From 1991 until 2018, the minority TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics, fueling ethnic animosity from the Oromia and Amhara communities, who felt marginalised. When Abiy Ahmed came to power, ending the decades-long Tigray dominance, other ethnic groups considered the new government as an opportunity to address ethnic marginalisation. However, it unfolded further hostilities. Since then, ethnic mobilisation has increased and ethnic militias have been carrying out violence against each other. Years-long territorial disputes between Tigrayans and Amharas became the motive for Amhara ethnic militias to side with the Ethiopian federal forces during the Tigray conflict between 2021 and 2022. However, Amhara nationalists blame the government for excluding them from the November 2022 peace agreement in Tigray and letting the status of the disputed lands be resolved by the 1995 constitution. The new wave of conflict in Amhara points to ethnic grievances over the probable return of the disputed land to Tigray. On the other side, the rebel group OLA has been conducting violent campaigns for the self-determination of Oromos for decades.

Third, the standoff in the Amhara conflict. The conflict in Amhara comes nine months after the end of the two-year conflict in Tigray. The peace agreement in November 2022 froze the conflict in Tigray with a negative peace, and tensions continue to exist. In June, another wave of ethnic conflict erupted between the OLA and the Amharas, where BBC Africa reported that OLA was accused of the targeted killing of more than 250 ethnic Amhara people in the Oromia region. Peace talks between the OLA and the Ethiopian government in May ended without a conclusion.

Fourth, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s unpopular strategy to unify Ethiopia. Ethnic conflicts have surged in Ethiopia ever since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power, owing to his vision of a centralised administration. Ahmed’s pan-Ethiopia vision was unwelcome by many ethno-nationalists. By removing Tigrayans from senior leadership positions, including those in the military and security services, the TPLF lost decades-long dominance in Ethiopian politics  acting as one of the triggers for the Tigray conflict. The recent rise in tensions across Tigray, Amhara, and Oromia comes after the Ethiopian government announced its decision to integrate all ethnic special forces into the national army in April. The objective of the decision was to foster ethnic unity and to prevent regional forces from being drawn into conflicts; however, it backfired.

In perspective
First, Amhara’s similar trajectory to Tigray. The conflicts in the neighbouring states of Tigray, Amhara, and Oromia represent the quest for political and territorial supremacy against each other rather than issues of ethnic marginalisation. This would imply that the conflict and increasing humanitarian crisis in Amhara is unlikely to cease, putting it on a trajectory similar to that of Tigray. The conflict in Tigray is frozen with a narrow peace, highlighting the Ethiopian government’s failure to address deep ethno-structural issues that point to Ethiopia’s other conflict crossroads.

Second, the fallouts of Ahmed’s pan-Ethiopia vision. Ahmed’s attempt to restore the country's social fabric by fostering an inclusive political atmosphere is backfiring. His tendency to resort to the wrong method of suppression triggers tensions. Across the country, ethnic and inter-ethnic conflicts are erupting over land, political power, and recognition. The struggle will continue until Ahmed’s government builds a better federation that accepts the existing social structure and meets the needs and interests of all ethnic groups, which is unlikely.

Niger: Continuing standoff
Jerry Franklin A

In the news
On 16 August, the United Nations issued a warning, appealing for humanitarian exceptions on sanctions and border restrictions to prevent a humanitarian crisis, stating the present situation in Niger might significantly worsen the already severe food shortages in the country. The acting regional director of the World Food Programme (WFP) for Western Africa, Margot van der Velden, stated: "Our work is vital for the most vulnerable in Niger and needs to continue, particularly in the current circumstances. We urge all parties to facilitate humanitarian exemptions, enabling immediate access to people in need of critical food and necessities.”

On 18 August, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed on a "D-day" for potential military intervention to restore democracy in Niger. Al Jazeera quoted ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah: “We are ready to go any time the order is given. The D-day is also decided. We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention.”

On 19 August, a delegation from ECOWAS met the deposed president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, and had discussions with the head of the military administration, General Abdourahmane Tchiani.

On 22 August, the African Union suspended Niger’s membership. The African Union's Peace and Security Council stated: “We are studying the ECOWAS decision to prepare forces for deployment in Niger and the African Commission will evaluate its repercussions. We strongly reject any external interference by any party or country in the affairs of the continent, including private military companies.”

Issues at large
First, the continuing standoff. ECOWAS has ordered the mobilisation of a standby military force, ready to invade Niger, in case the military refuses to relinquish power. All member countries of ECOWAS, except Cape Verde and those under military control, are prepared to join the standby force. Several ECOWAS delegations that were dispatched to meet with the junta did not receive positive responses. The African Union has expelled Niger from all its initiatives and warned its members to refrain from taking any actions that would give the junta legitimacy. It called on the AU Commission to develop a list of junta members and their sympathisers for “the application of individual punitive measures” and targeted sanctions. On 10 August, the coup leaders in Niger proclaimed the establishment of a new government. The new cabinet consists of 21 ministers. This new government counters the requests for President Mohamed Bazoum's reinstatement made by the ECOWAS and other international bodies. During the delegation’s recent visit to Niger, the coup leaders proposed a three-year transition plan and claimed that the specifics of the transfer of power would be determined within 30 days; however, the ECOWAS did not accept the proposal and urged the immediate restoration of civilian administration.

Second, the divided society. Niger’s military accuses ousted President Mohamed Bazoum of treason, alleging that he had undermined the internal and external security of the country. The junta has considerable support from Niamey's residents who routinely participated in anti-sanctions protests. On the other hand, another section is carrying protests against the coup. Rhissa Ag Boula, a former politician and rebel leader, has started a movement opposing the military administration, indicating the first internal opposition.

Third, the unbounding challenges. The neighbouring countries, including Chad and Niger, have expressed their grave concerns over the rise in crime and instability along the border regions. The people across the region are under pressure because of the unprecedented high cost of necessary food products and it is getting harder for them to pay for their basic needs. For the neighbouring countries, the combination of increased insecurity and rising food costs has resulted in a catastrophic scenario. The military coup in Niger is affecting UN humanitarian activities because of border and airspace restrictions and posing a threat to the supply of food and medication. Currently, there are 4.3 million people in Niger who need humanitarian aid. On 16 August, near the Burkina Faso-Niger border, a terrorist strike by Islamists killed 17 soldiers and another 20 were reportedly injured. According to Al Jazeera, since the military ousted the government in Niamey, there have been seven attacks against the country’s armed forces by insurgent groups.

In perspective
First, the stalemate between ECOWAS and Niger is likely to continue and may worsen. The continuing standoff between the ECOWAS and Niger’s junta makes it difficult to find common ground to resolve the confrontation. Both the junta and ECOWAS stand firm on their stance and seek to uphold their stand at any cost. The announcement of a three-year transition is a constructive move; yet, there is a possibility of military intervention.

Second, a divided society and its implications for the military in Niger. People who support the junta find the takeover a significant step to oppose the neo-colonial engagement of the West. The supporters of President Bazoum highlight that the coup will disregard his notable advancements in security and development, including the campaign against the insurgency, girls’ access to secondary school and promoting the resettlement of villages affected by conflict.

Third, Niger is on the verge of an economic and security crisis. The sanctions on Niger would increase the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance. If not resolved, the crisis will worsen the region's deteriorating security and economic situation.

Killing of Ethiopian migrants at the Yemen border by Saudi Arabia: Four takeaways of a HRW Report
Shamini Velayutham

On 21 August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report titled, “‘They Fired on Us Like Rain’: Saudi Arabian Mass Killings of Ethiopian Migrants at the Yemen-Saudi Border.” According to the report, between March 2022 and June 2023, Saudi border guards killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who attempted to cross the Yemen-Saudi border. Saudi border guards are said to have shot migrants, including women and children, and made use of explosive weapons. HRW interviewed 23 individuals who attempted to enter Saudi Arabia as sizable groups and came under attack from explosive weapons. The interviewees claimed that in 11 attempts to cross the border, at least 1,278 migrants have been killed. HRW was alerted by refugees and migrants that Yemeni smugglers had divided into groups according to their Ethiopian ethnicity=and smuggled through a perilous crossing from Djibouti to Aden in unseaworthy vessels. They were taken by smugglers to the Saudi Arabian border province of Saada, which is currently governed by the Houthi militia known as Ansar Allah. Ethnic Oromo and Tigrayans were taken to unofficial migrant settlement camps known as Al Thabit and Al Raqw, respectively.

An estimated 7,50,000 Ethiopians reside in Saudi Arabia. Several migrants have fled Ethiopia, following major human rights violations committed by the government and ethnic militias, especially during the recent armed conflict in northern Ethiopia.

The following four takeaways could be observed from the HRW report.

1. Saudi Arabia’s targeted attack on Ethiopian migrants
Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers have faced hardships ever since the conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region erupted. The cross-border migration of civilians has caused haywire in the Yemen-Saudi border region. There have been significant assaults targeting Ethiopian migrants who tried to cross the Saudi Arabian border through Yemen from the Horn of Africa. These targeted attacks on the migrants are executed by the Saudi Arabian guards. The series of brutal attacks are carried out by firing explosives against the unarmed migrants solely for their attempts to cross the border. Saudi Arabia has denied the accusations and remains silent regarding the incident.

2. Absence of international mandate
The United Nations Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) mandated Group of Eminent Experts in Yemen was dissolved in 2021 due to opposition from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Since then, there has been no international system obligated to monitor human rights violations in Yemen, including abuses against migrants.

3. Thriving migrant smugglers
Yemeni smugglers play a significant role in Saudi Arabia’s mass killing of Ethiopian migrants. The asylum seekers and migrants are obligated to pass through life-threatening journeys while crossing the borders. The smugglers, with the support of the Houthi armed group also known as Ansar Allah, separate the migrants into groups according to their ethnicity. The Houthi forces collect ransoms for transporting migrants across the Yemeni border. They are abused in detention centres until they pay the exit fee at the border. The armed forces conduct explosive attacks on the groups that are unable to pay the demanded money.

4. Dangerous migrant route from the Horn of Africa
Ethiopian migrants for years have taken capricious routes to reach Saudi Arabia through Yemen from the Horn of Africa. The ‘Eastern route’ or the ‘Yemeni route’ is a common route taken by the migrants. The Saada Governorate acts as a doorway to reach Saudi Arabia through land. Migrants have also set up temporary camps at Al Thabit and Al Raqw in Saada Governorate before reaching Saudi Arabia. The dangerous route is accompanied by remorseless attacks by Saudi Arabian guards and Yemeni traffickers.

Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Rishika Yadav, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandan, Dhriti Mukherjee and Akriti Sharma

East and Southeast Asia 
China: US imposes sanctions on officials over "forced assimilation"
On 22 August, the US imposed visa sanctions against Chinese officials for the "forced assimilation" of Tibetan children. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his concerns after the UN reported that one million children were forcibly separated from their families. He stated: "These coercive policies seek to eliminate Tibet’s distinct linguistic, cultural and religious traditions among younger generations of Tibetans." He called on Chinese officials to halt this coercion. The leader of the International Campaign for Tibet, a pressure group close to the region’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Tencho Gyatso, commented: "This boarding school programme targets the most vulnerable and impressionable minds and is aimed at converting Tibetans into Chinese, cementing the Chinese government’s control over Tibet and annihilating the Tibetan culture and way of life." It is suspected that the policy is aimed at forcefully integrating Tibetans into Chinese Han culture through education in Mandarin while undermining Tibetan culture.

South Korea: Protest against Fukushima radioactive water release
On 23 August, South Korea's opposition Democratic Party and civic groups staged a country-wide protest against Japan's Fukushima radioactive water release planned for 24 August. South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol has come under scrutiny over the decision to release the water. The civilian concern looms over the contamination of seafood products. The Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, has called it an act of "terror." A survey by Pollster Media Research estimated that 62 per cent of the population plan to cut their seafood consumption once the discharge begins. Lee stated: "Japan is about to bring irreversible calamity to South Korea and Pacific Rim countries with the release of radioactive contaminated water." Additionally, China summoned the Japanese ambassador, Hideo Tarumi, over the release, calling it "extremely selfish."

North Korea: Spy satellite launch fails
On 24 August, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that North Korea failed to launch a spy satellite for the second time in three months, implying a setback to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who wanted a reconnaissance probe on the US forces. The launch prompted Japan to issue an emergency warning in the southern Okinawa province; however, the alert was lifted after 20 minutes. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno condemned the launch for using ballistic missile technology. Additionally, the launch was criticised by South Korea's National Security Council (NSC), as a serious violation of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution. The launch comes following the leaders of the US, Japan, and South Korea meeting at Camp David in Washington on 19 August, where greater cooperation to counter North Korean nuclear threats was discussed.

Thailand: Thaksin Shinawatra returns to Thailand amid political uncertainty
On 23 August, the Bangkok Post reported that former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand after 15 years in exile. Thaksin, known for his populist policies, was prime minister until a 2006 coup. On his return, he received an eight-year prison sentence for corruption. His reappearance aligns with ongoing efforts to choose a new prime minister and resolve political deadlock following the Progressive Party’s victory in the elections. The move also coincides with the ascent of Srettha Thavisin, a real estate mogul backed by the Thaksin-affiliated Palang Dharma Party, who was elected as prime minister on 22 August. However, this partnership contradicts the party's initial campaign to keep the military out of power, potentially fueling protests among its young supporters. The alignment of traditional power and progressive aspirations could result in shifts that redefine Thailand's political landscape.

Myanmar: Junta troops burn homes following clashes
On 22 August, Myanmar Now reported that Myanmar's junta reportedly set fire to homes in the Thar Si village in the Sagaing region after clashes with local resistance forces. Soldiers have been burning an undisclosed number of residences since 15 August. The Myanmar junta has been targeting Thar Si village along with other militias including the Pyu Saw Htee. It is speculated that the junta is targeting this village to reach the Kalay region, where the pro-junta Pyu Saw Htee militia’s strongholds are. The Kalay region borders the state of Chin where anti-junta resistance groups exercise significant territorial control.

South Asia
Afghanistan: 218 former soldiers and officials killed since Taliban takeover, says UN report
On 22 August, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report titled “A barrier to securing peace: Human rights violations against former government officials and former armed force members.” According to the report, at least 218 former Afghanistan soldiers and officials were killed extra judicially since the Taliban takeover in August 2021. It also reports 14 enforced disappearances, over 144 instances of torture and ill-treatment, and 424 arbitrary arrests and detentions. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk stated that the targeted killing of the officials is a “betrayal of the people’s trust.” He called on Afghanistan's de facto authorities to prevent further abuses and hold those responsible accountable.

Central Asia, the Middle East  and Africa 
Syria: Russian air raids in Idlib
On 23 August, Al Jazeera reported on the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, saying that at least two civilians were killed in a Russian air raid in rebel-held north-west Syria. On 22 August, two attacks took place in Arri, west of the provincial capital Idlib, where displaced Syrians are residing; one civilian was killed during the attack. The same day, in another attack targeting a rebel base, three members of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an armed group that controls swathes of Idlib province were killed in the north of Idlib city. On 21 August, attacks on the outskirts of Idlib city killed at least 13 HTS fighters.

Libya: 161 Nigerian migrants repatriated under UN scheme
On 22 August, Al Jazeera reported on Libya repatriating 161 Nigerians back to their country under a UN-backed voluntary scheme. The migrants included women and children and they were assisted at the Tripoli airport by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM); they arrived in Lagos on 21 August. The report quotes the Minister of Interior of the UN-recognised government based in Tripoli, Imed Trabelsi: “We cannot bear the burden of clandestine migration alone.” A Nigerian embassy official in Tripoli, Samuel Okeri, said that the migrants were “not forced back” to Nigeria. The developments came after 10 August, when Libya and Tunisia agreed to share responsibility to provide shelter to hundreds of migrants stranded at their borders. In July, hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants were driven to the Libyan border by Tunisian authorities after violence against migrants broke out in the port city of Sfax, following the death of a Tunisian citizen. Previously in February, Tunisian President Kais Saied commented that the sub-Saharan African migrants bring with them “violence, crime, and unacceptable practices.”

Sudan: Fighting continues in Khartoum
On 23 August, BBC Africa reported on heavy fighting in the Sudanese capital Khartoum between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). SAF stated that it repelled RSF’s attack on the Armoured Corps military base in the Al-Shajara region, south of Khartoum. RSF in a statement claimed that it has taken control of parts of the army base and has captured large quantities of weaponry.

Europe and the Americas
Russia: Wagner group leader Prigozhin killed in plane crash
On 23 August, TASS reported that Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash. Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transport initiated an investigation into the crash of an Embraer plane in the Tver Region. The plane, en route from Sheremetyevo International Airport, Moscow, to St. Petersburg, crashed with all ten people on board reported dead. The passenger list, according to the report, included the names of Prigozhin and Dmitri Utkin, Wagner’s top commander.

Ukraine: Denmark and Netherlands to provide F-16 fighter jets
On 22 August, following Denmark and the Netherlands’ pledge to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Denmark began training eight Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets. Denmark will provide 19 F-16 jets to Ukraine where six of them are expected to be delivered in early 2024. On 20 August, according to Ukrinform, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Telegram that Ukraine and the Netherlands reached a consensus on the transfer of F-16 jets. Earlier, it was agreed that F-16 jets would be transferred to Ukraine under certain conditions, in close cooperation with the US and other partners. Conditions include (but are not limited to) successfully selected, tested, and trained F-16 personnel in Ukraine, authorisations, infrastructure, and logistics.

Canada: Wildfires in western provinces reach record levels, state emergency imposed
On 22 August, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) reported that there are more than 1,000 live forest fires in the western provinces of the country and thousands have been evacuated. According to World Weather Attribution, human-induced factors increased the likelihood of forest fires by 20 to 50 per cent. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the deployment of the military to tackle fast-spreading wildfires. According to Al Jazeera, this year’s wildfires have scorched ten times more area than in the previous year.

Colombia: Armed groups responsible for decreased deforestation
On 22 August, Al Jazeera reported a claim by the environmental crime researcher, Bram Ebus, that the decrease in the deforestation levels in Colombia for July has been linked to armed groups. This comes after the government of Colombia announced in July that deforestation had dropped to the lowest level in nearly a decade. According to Ebus, the armed groups hold the aim of engaging in “paz total” (meaning total peace) talks with the left-wing government led by President Gustavo Petro and see “using deforestation restrictions as a political tool.” These armed groups have banned deforestation in the Amazon Forest under their control using environmental protection as an ecological tool. Ebus claims that although this has bolstered Petro’s deforestation goals, it has raised concerns about them using “the environment as a bargaining chip and wreaking havoc on the environment if things go south at the negotiation table.”

Haiti and Dominican Republic: Tropical storm Franklin lashes on Hispaniola Island
On 22 August, tropical storm Franklin descended on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 250 millimetres of rain is currently expected along with potential landslides and heavy floods. Concerns currently are centred around Haiti due to its poor infrastructure, ongoing political crisis and the recent flooding that it is yet to recover from. However, officials in both countries have taken numerous precautionary measures, including issuing alerts, closing schools and working places as well as setting up emergency response teams with the aid of the UN World Food Programme.

Mexico: Bus crash kills 15 migrants
On 22 August, a bus containing mainly migrant and asylum seekers from Venezuela to the US crashed on Mexico’s highways, killing at least 15 migrants and injuring 36. This route has become increasingly associated with migrant smugglers and organised crime, becoming a primary cause of death for migrants who are forced to travel in overcrowded and unsafe vehicles.

About the authors
Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Madhura Mahesh are independent scholars based in Bangalore. Akriti Sharma is a PhD Scholar at NIAS. Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis and Rishika Yadav are Research Assistants at NIAS. Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at NIAS. Dhriti Mukherjee is a Research Intern at NIAS.

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