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Mekong Eye News Digest: 22 December 2016

Curated by The Mekong Eye. A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, investment, safeguards and other development issues. We include a balanced and representative range of news and views from local, regional and global sources. The Digest reaches over 5000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.

By The Mekong Eye

Mekong Region, December 22, 2016

MEKONG NEWS DIGEST: Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE)

To 22 December 2016

(The Digest is taking a break next week. See you in 2017!)

Curated by The Mekong Eye. A weekly update of news, commentary and resources on Mekong development projects, investment, safeguards and other development issues. We include a balanced and representative range of news and views from local, regional and global sources. The Digest reaches over 5000 key development professionals, government officials, business leaders and journalists.


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A River in Peril: The Mekong Under China’s Control –RFA

Radio Free Asia (RFA) launched a multimedia investigative web series examining the impact of China’s rapid development on the Mekong River and the communities downstream. “A River in Peril: The Mekong Under China’s Control” tells the story of Southeast Asia’s longest river, on which more than 60 million depend for their food, drinking water, and livelihoods.

The Journey Begins in Yunnan –RFA

Over the past decade, China has built a cascade of dams on the Mekong to help power the nation’s economic rise. The source of the Lancang is beginning to disappear and with it up 40 percent of the dry-season water that reaches Thailand and Laos. The dams have blocked vital sediment flows to farms in the south and are partly the cause for a decline in fish stocks in the northern Mekong.

Fishermen in Cambodia Hurt by New Dam in Laos –VOA News

Fishermen on the Mekong River in Cambodia say they are being hurt by dams being built in Laos. They say they are catching fewer, and smaller, fish. The fishermen blame illegal fishing with electric nets, overfishing, climate change and drought. Man Mat is the son of a fisherman. He says, “the fish are getting smaller and smaller, in 10 years, there’ll be no more fish left.”

Scientists discover 163 new species in Greater Mekong region: WWF –Reuters

A rainbow-headed snake and a dragon-like lizard are among 163 new species that scientists recently discovered in the Greater Mekong region, conservation group WWF said on Monday, adding rapid development in the area, from dams to mines, was threatening wildlife survival. (See also: New Species Discoveries in 2015 –WWF and UNR Researchers Are Studying The Biodiversity Of The Mekong River –KUNR)

The river of 60 million people –BBC (Gallery)

Although the Mekong river slides through six countries and various climates, its geographical and spiritual source is said to lie on the high, dry Tibetan plateau. The Mekong river provides food, water and livelihoods to some 60 million people in six countries. For much of its journey, it slides through tropical climates; places like Vietnam and Thailand but the exact source of the Mekong River has long been disputed.



Mining Minister Questioned Over Alleged Sand Export Graft –VOA Cambodia

Suy Sem, minister of mines and energy, was called in front of parliament’s anti-corruption commission after a group of NGOs analyzed U.N. trade figures and found a 70 million ton shortfall in what Cambodia had reported as being exported to Singapore, compared with the island nation’s imports data.

Still Taking a Cut –The Cambodia Daily

The government claims that it has all but wiped out the country’s booming illegal timber trade since Prime Minister Hun Sen put the head of the National Military Police, General Sao Sokha, in charge of a special task force to root it out. But Vietnamese customs data shows that many millions of dollars worth of timber continues to pour through.

Environment Ministry’s Annual Report Out –Khmer Times

The Environment Ministry’s annual report revealed 600 forestry crimes in protected areas, while there were nearly 700 cases of fishing, wildlife and land crimes. The report showed that rangers, in collaboration with relevant parties, managed to prevent and suppress offenses at national parks, wildlife habitats and protected areas, but crime was still widespread in 2016.

Plans spilt for oil refinery –The Phnom Penh Post

A mysterious cluster of crude oil storage tanks recently constructed on the coast near Kampot are linked to a $400 million project by timber baron Try Pheap to build an industrial park and oil refinery, government officials confirmed.  The five 2-million-litre tanks are part of 20 crude oil storage tanks slated for construction on a 51-hectare port project connected to a special economic zone (SEZ).

Villagers Seek Help With Their Dispute –Khmer Times

About 100 people representing 162 families from Koh Kong province came to Phnom Penh to resubmit a petition to the National Assembly and some state institutions asking for intervention in a decade-old land dispute with three sugar companies.

 Minister Seeks Land Law Decision –Khmer Times

The Agriculture Minister has urged stakeholders to wind up consultations on the agricultural land draft law to let experts prepare it for Cabinet review. The plea was made at a two-day National Consultation Workshop on “Agriculture Land Law”, about 300 government officials, civil society organizations, farmers and community network members attended the event.



Factories in Vientiane Saysettha Development Zone Start Manufacturing –Lao News Agency

Around four out of the ten factories in the Saysettha Development Zone, Vientiane started manufacturing this year. The zone mainly consists of industry focusing on the processing of agricultural and sideline products, hardware and building materials, machine manufacturing, clean energy production, logistics, commerce and trade. It also supports technological innovation and entrepreneurship of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Nam Ou Hydropower’s Generation Scheduled for Pre-2020 –Lao News Agency

The construction of the Nam Ou 1, 3, 4 and 7 Hydropower Projects with a combined installed generation capacity of 740 megawatts in Luang Prabang and Phongsaly is expected to be complete by 2020. Most electricity generated by these projects will be sold to Eletricite du Laos for supply to local people in the northern parts of Laos according to the government policy and strategy to promote industrialization and development in the localities.



Hydropower in Myanmar: For Whose Benefit? –Transnational Institute via the Mekong Eye (Opinion)

Amidst the many challenges Myanmar now faces, the threats to the environment are urgent – and they are growing more extreme. The situation is especially serious in the case of mega dams and hydropower where a host of projects are being promoted, without appropriate planning or public consultation, that are likely to cause irreversible harm to communities and natural ecosystems around the country. Not only are many of the projects located in nationality areas that are conflict zones, but the bulk of the energy produced will also be exported to neighbouring countries.

Unifying Indigenous Karen to Preserve Sacred Forests and Cultural Heritage –The Irrawaddy

The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), the Karen National Liberation Army’s 5th Brigade, and the indigenous Karen communities of Kheshorter Forest jointly organized this historic gathering of community representatives from places as far as Dawei, to learn about how the local people have protected their forests from destruction.

KNU Criticized for Lack of Transparency in Development Projects –The Irrawaddy

CSOs criticized the Karen National Union (KNU for its lack of transparency when signing a MOU with multiple trading companies. They said that KNU leaders failed to inform Karen civilians of the signing of the MOU, which will allow several companies to build new development and business projects in Tenasserim Division in southern Burma.

Stone, Sand, Water: The Key Ingredients Changing the Salween Landscape –Mongabay

With industrial development hurtling ahead in Myanmar, dams are just one of the threats facing the Salween River. A construction boom in Myanmar is fueling a demand for raw materials like limestone and sand. Extracting these resources threatens ecosystems and communities along the Salween River. Activists call for an alternative vision for development, based on sustainable technologies and small-scale, decentralized projects.

CSOs urge cancellation of coal, large hydro projects –Frontier Myanmar

Hundreds of civil society organisations have urged the government to formally abandon plans for coal power plants and large-scale hydropower projects and instead embrace renewable energy. Some CSO leaders have also criticised the National League for Democracy for excluding the public from a review of the country’s energy policies. (See also: Environmental Advocates Push for More Renewable Energy in Burma –The Irrawaddy)

CSOs slam rebel-backed Taninthayi projects –Eleven Myanmar

Civil society organisations based in Taninthayi Region have criticised plans for a hydropower dam on the Taninthayi River and other development projects in the region which lack transparency. According to the groups’ statement, two domestic firms signed a MoU with the China-based Power China International Group for a dam project on the river.

Karen people call for a peace park instead of big hydropower in their homeland –Mongabay

The Salween Peace Park, which would encompass the site slated for the Hat Gyi Dam, presents an alternative vision for development in Myanmar. Local people and NGOs have called for the creation of a 5,200-square kilometer park that would function as an indigenous-led protected area. The proposed park includes existing community forests, as well as the site of the planned Hat Gyi dam.

Locals concerned over water safety after tailings dump –Myanmar Times

Thousands of Magwe residents are concerned mining slag heaps recently deposited in streams near the Tout Tat mountain could have harmful environmental side effects. The now expansive, 4 acre, 30-foot-high tailing was discarded by a chromite mineral mine that has recently been abuzz with activity.

Locals in Dawei Seek Justice After Impact of Destructive Tin Mining –The Irrawaddy

Villagers from the economic development-driven Dawei District in Tenasserim Division say that they have not received proper compensation after a tin mining project began negatively affecting their livelihoods. They had been fighting for two years to be compensated by the Myanmar Pongpipat Company’s Heinda tin mining project due to its negative physical and environmental impact.

Companies get green light for Kachin mining –Eleven Myanmar

Three companies have been given the green light for heavy-scale mining in more than 10,000 acres of Kachin State, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. They will be exploring marble, iron ore and metal in the state, the ministry said.

Gold mines ravage Sagaing: chief minister –Eleven Myanmar

Sagaing Region’s chief minister Dr Myint Naing says there are several illegal gold mines in Homelin Township which bribe the authorities to continue operations. The chief minister toured legal gold mines and saw illegal mining in Hteingon and Longphaung villages in Homelin Township on December 15.



Our delicate environment –Bangkok Post

From the controversial planned promenade on the Chao Phraya River to the tiger temple scandal, key ecological issues from 2016 will continue to capture society’s attention well into the coming year. The departure of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej brought collective bereavement. Yet many Thais subsequently have had a chance to reflect on his works on ecological conservation, environmental protection, micro-irrigation infrastructure; reforestation and alternative energy.

Shuttered Gold Mine Shows Investors Risks of Thai Power Grab –Bloomberg

When Thailand’s junta leader-turned-prime minister used his absolute power to suspend gold mining — prompting an Australian miner’s shares to plummet 19 percent in a single day. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha announced the order, saying that gold mining will be suspended from the start of the year in a bid to address health and environmental concerns. (See also: Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s gold mine decision send ‘horrendous’ message, says Kingsgate chairman –The Sydney Morning Herald and Goodbye to Thailand’s biggest gold mine –Bangkok Post)

Park heritage status won’t halt dam plan –Bangkok Post

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has said it will press on with nominating the Mae Wong-Klong Lan National Park for World Heritage status despite the impending construction of the controversial Mae Wong dam. The department said that the department in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme has completed a master plan of the Mae Wong-Klong Lan National Park’s management, which will be submitted to Unesco’s World Heritage Committee in a request for the park’s listing as a World Heritage feature.

Public-Private Partnerships: Thailand’s Plan for Infrastructure Development –Lexology

The government of Thailand has made it clear that it intends to fully utilize public-private partnerships (PPPs) in order to implement the country’s upcoming infrastructure development goals. The announcement of the Strategic Plan on Private Investment in State Undertakings in 2015 demonstrate the specific policy objectives the government intends to achieve through using PPPs.



A look at Vietnam’s new $1.6bn hydropower plant –Tuoi Tre News (Photos)

A gigantic, multibillion-dollar hydropower plant is scheduled for inauguration on December 20 in the northern mountainous province of Lai Chau. Vietnam Electricity has invested VND35.7 trillion (US$1.59 billion) on the Lai Chau Hydropower Plant. The construction included more than 20 million cubic meters of earthworks, 3.4 million cubic meters of concrete, 37,000 metric tons of equipment, and the relocation of 2,100 households.

Dam Design and Greed May Factor Into Flood Devastation in Vietnam –RFA

The poor design and management of Vietnam’s power-generating dams are likely one of the main factors that led to recent deadly floods that inundated the country’s central provinces. Flooding over the past two months has devastated Vietnam’s central provinces, killed dozens of people and caused millions of dollars in economic damage as unusually heavy rain has pelted the country.

Collaboration is the key to a renewable energy future –VietnamNet Bridge

Vietnam’s surge in the demand for energy is providing the impetus to develop its emerging renewable energy industry. John Rockhold, chairman of the Vietnam Business Forum’s Power and Energy Working Group, talked with VIR’s Phuong Thu about how to maximise Vietnam’s energy resources to stimulate investment in energy generation and attract foreign investors.


DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT                                             

The media megaphone: does it help curb bad infrastructure projects? -Monga Bay

Many conservationists trying to mitigate the harm of ill-advised projects, or even see them canceled, are relying heavily on the media to achieve their aims. There is precedent for such a strategy: media coverage has historically played a key part in curbing some of the most ambitious of international mega-infrastructure projects.



Wife of Lao Activist Calls on Government to ‘Come Clean’ on Husband’s Fate –VOA News

The wife of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone is calling for judicial reforms in Laos and for the government clarify the fate of her husband, saying she will “never give up” in seeking the truth behind his disappearance. Sombath’s years of work in “grassroots rural development” had inspired thousands of Lao farmers and families and helped them “farm better and live better. (See also: NGOs urge search for Laos Activist 4 years after he vanished –Khaosod English, The Mystery of Sombath Somphone Still Resonates in Laos –RFA, Wives of missing Thai, Lao activists seek action over disappearances –Reuters and 4 Years We Still Remember Your Name (Video) –Sombath Somphone and Beyond Project)



Attacks on journalists in Myanmar highlight complications, dangers for the media –Mongabay

The murder of a Burmese reporter investigating illegal logging and the roadside beating of another, both in Myanmar earlier this week, have raised new fears about media safety in the country. Soe Moe Tun, a 37 year-old Burmese reporter was found “severely beaten” to death by the side of a highway near the town of Monywa on Dec. 13. The Sagaing region is well known as a hub for illegal logging that operates in spite of a logging ban that’s been in effect for most of 2016.

Government Sets Spending Priorities for Foreign Aid Money –The Irrawaddy

The National League for Democracy (NLD) government has identified a shortlist of the most urgent development projects across Burma that could be financed with international aid money. Many countries have offered assistance to Burma since the NLD government took charge in April, the new Development Assistance Coordination Unit (DACU) and Cooperation Partners Group (CPG) are tasked with managing where and how to apply that international aid, in accordance with the country’s new economic policy.



USAID’s current priorities in Vietnam: A blend of old and new –Devex

Several of the U.S. government’s development priorities in Vietnam can be traced back to events that damaged relations between the two countries during the Vietnam War. But the U.S. Agency for International Development is now also looking ahead to what’s next, such as an innovative finance mechanism for forest protection, and supporting the country in adopting a more inclusive, modern health system post-PEPFAR procurement.



Devastated villages pay the price for ignoring coal’s environmental impact –China Dialogue

Over thirty years Shenmu became China’s top coal-producing county, and the biggest generator of coal-fired power in western China. But the coal boom was also accompanied by a host of environmental problems: land subsidence, dried-up rivers, and loss of vegetation, with knock-on effects for people’s livelihoods.

The global road-building explosion is shattering nature –Eco Business

“Road-building” might sound innocuous, like “house maintenance” – or even positive, conjuring images of promoting economic growth. However, a new mapping study shows that roads have sliced and diced almost the entire land surface of Earth, leaving huge areas prone to illegal logging, mining and hunting.

Road planning ‘trade off’ could boost food production while helping protect tropical forests –Devex

Conservation scientists have used layers of data on biodiversity, climate, transport and crop yields to construct a colour-coded mapping system that shows where new road-building projects should go to be most beneficial for food production at the same time as being least destructive to the environment.The hope is that this “trade-off” strategy might guide governments, investors and developers to focus on road expansions that make the most difference for current agricultural areas, rather than projects that threaten to open up significant natural habitats for conversion to farmland.

Needed: a new model for biodiversity conservation in Asia –Manorama Online

The vast Asian landmass represents spectacular biodiversity with its distinct and endless land-forms, giant rivers and streams crisscrossing the continent and terminating into the nearby seas and ocean. Much could be done to preserve the unique biodiversity of South and SE Asia through intra and inter-regional cooperation, The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and ASEAN could play a significant game changer role if these two broad regional and economic cooperation hubs come together to extend cooperation in terms of preserving and protecting the regional biodiversity.

How to make hydropower more environmentally friendly –Ensia

While hydro provides 85 percent of the world’s renewable electricity, it comes with a cost. As a result of this surge in hydro development, an international coalition of governments, utilities and non-governmental organizations launched the Hydropower Sustainability Assessement Protocol in 2011. These voluntary standards were created as a road map to make new hydropower more environmentally benign and less harmful to local communities, which are often displaced or compromised by large projects.




Will Vietnam launch a “Resolution 10” on renewable energy? Hanoi TV via The Mekong Eye

Vietnam has strongly committed to develop renewable energy. In recent years, Vietnam has decided to develop renewable energy (RE), especially for wind and solar, with the aim to ensure the national energy security. Experts expect implementation of these commitments will create a “Resolution 10” for the energy sector. Resolution 10 is the name of a critically important Vietnamese reform in 1988. This policy helped to liberalize the freedom and the production potential in rural and agricultural economies. Read full English translation on The Mekong Eye.

Uncertain path for Vietnam’s wind power sector –HanoiTV via the Mekong Eye

The country needs transparent and credible pricing mechanisms if generating targets are going to be met. Although Vietnam has great potential for renewable energy, and the government has put forward many plans advocating it, actual policies to secure investment and develop the sector have been slow to evolve.  “Development [of renewables] has not grown strongly because power prices are too low to accommodate it,” says Le Tuan Phong, the Vice Director of Energy Department, Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT). Wind power in particular struggles to gain a foothold. This lackluster growth is attributable to conflicts between the government and investors on appropriate pricing.

Fight against dams along the Irrawaddy River –FNBC via The Mekong Eye (Video)

The Myanmar government decided in February, 2011 to postpone the Myitsone hydro-electricity dam which is to be built at the upper stream of the Ayeyarwady River. The justification was that the project would be harmful to the country’s economy and society. The decision made its Chinese partner, the China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) unhappy. However, this is not a final decision for the dam. In early 2016, China suggested to resume the dam project right after the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi took power in late 2015. What would happen in Myanmar if the new government would restart the project which is affected by economics, politics and society? Vietnam’s Financial Business News Channel (FNBC) explores dams on the Irrawaddy river in this video report in Vietnamese language with English subtitles. This is part four of reporter Vo Thi Thuy Van’s series on regional dams.



FEATURE & VIDEO: The Evolution of Development: How People from Across the Mekong Region Are Mapping Out Their Collective Future –Mekong Partnership for the Environment via Mekong Citizen

Five countries. A vast range of ministries, government agencies, businesses, NGOs, community organizations. Hundreds of citizens. Through a landmark participatory process, USAID-supported Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) and its public participation guidelines are changing how development is done across the region. The two-year journey began with a bold vision. At the end of 2014, at a regional forum in Thailand, MPE laid out a roadmap that would result in the creation of regional guidelines for improving public participation in infrastructure development – the standard by which all large-scale projects in the five Mekong countries would be judged in the future.

HANDBOOK: An investor’s guide to responsible development: An MPE Primer on Investment –Mekong Partnership for the Environment/Pact

Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) has been working with governments, civil society and the private sector to reduce the social and environmental impacts of large-scale development projects. MPE is supporting the development of Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment, working with regional stakeholders to improve EIA and public participation policy and practices, and supporting banks to adopt clear sustainable lending practices. This document provides guidance on creating responsible development projects in the Mekong region, including items to consider across the seven stages of project development.

CASE STUDY: Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues Matter: A Case Study On An Extractive Gold Mining Site In Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia –Mekong Partnership for the Environment

Over the past year and a half, Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE) partner Development and Partnership in Action (DPA) has worked to build a platform for effective multi-stakeholder engagement on the impacts of mining activities in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri Province. DPA has worked to educate and empower community members to voice their concerns and provide input on mining activities, and has also facilitated productive and collaborative meetings between the mining companies, community members and local government. With DPA’s support, these stakeholders have established an increasingly trusting and transparent working relationship.

SURVEY: Mekong environmental journalism survey –Mekong Matters Journalism Network

Are you a journalist who reports on Mekong region environmental issues. Please help us. This 10-15 minute survey will help program planners and researchers assess the sector and understand your work and interests.

VIDEO: Video exchange initiative to enrich knowledge and promote local solutions on lake management –Mekong River Commission

A joint team of the Mekong River Commission’s member countries has launched a new knowledge sharing initiative – Participatory Video Exchange – to enhance sharing of information and best practices on water resources management of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap and Thailand’s Songkhla Lakes. The sister-lake project promotes and facilitates the process of reciprocal learning between the two lakes on lake governance by using communication means.

BLOG: It’s Time to Protect Our World’s Rivers –International Rivers

Dam construction had led to a massive fish kill and decimated salmon and steelhead runs. In the United States, it took decades of dam building – and the associated devastation of rivers – before people and their lawmakers started protecting wild and free-flowing rivers. With climate change threatening, we can’t afford to wait decades. It’s time to protect our free-flowing rivers globally.

PRESS RELEASE: Thailand: Cyber Crime Act Tightens Internet Control –Human Rights Watch

Thailand’s new Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA) gives overly broad powers to the government to restrict free speech, enforce surveillance and censorship, and retaliate against activists. Despite concerns expressed by civil society, business, and diplomatic representatives, the controversial law was unanimously adopted on December 16, 2016, by the National Legislative Assembly.

SURVEY: Agriculture for Food Security 2030; Translating Science into Policy and Practice –AgriFoSe2030

This survey is sent out by the Agriculture for Food Security programme (AgriFoSe2030) and RUFORUM. AgriFoSe2030 has been set up to translate state-of-the-art science for supporting better policies and improved practices within the agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa and in South and Southeast Asia. For more information see  The AgriFoSe2030 programme targets the UN Sustainability Development Goal 2 – “End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” in low-income countries.

MANUAL: Training Manual Helps Communities Improve Forest Governance and Livelihoods –USAID-Forests and Biodiversity Project via the Mekong Eye

The USAID Cambodia Supporting Forests and Biodiversity Project (USAID SFB), implemented by Winrock International improves conservation and governance of the Eastern Plains and Prey Lang Landscapes. To assist forest communities to improve governance and obtain equitable benefits from forest resources, USAID SFB developed this NTFP (Non-Timber Forest Products)-Based Livelihoods Enterprise Development and Management Training Manual.

WORKSHOP: Apply now: 3rd WriteShop for Mekong Writers in Bangkok, 21-22 Jan. 2017 –Mekong Commons

3rd WriteShop for Mekong Writers will be held in Bangkok, Thailand from 21-22 January 2017. The writeshop will help participants to think critically and produce a written story on current environment and development issues in the Mekong Region. The writeshop is especially intended to help less experienced writers and researchers in planning, framing and writing an environmental article. Application deadline is 28 December 2016.

GUIDELINES: When Oil, Gas or Mining Arrives in Your Area: Practical Guide for Communities, Civil Society and Local Government on the Social Aspects of Oil, Gas and Mining –Cordaid

The overall goal of this guide is to enable local communities affected by oil, gas and mining projects to carry out constructive, peaceful engagement and negotiation with companies and government, with the aim of achieving sustainable development and improved quality of life.

MANUAL: Guidelines to engage with marginalized ethnic minorities in agricultural research for development in the Greater Mekong –World Agroforestry Centre

This document is an output of Humidtropics, a CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics. This document is designed to help researchers who want to engage with ethnic groups to ensure agricultural research for development (R4D) stops contributing to their further marginalization. It can be used by those wanting to design new projects that engage with ethnic minorities from the start or those already implementing projects and wanting to improve their current practice.


Editor’s notes:

  • The above is curated by The Mekong Eye, a GeoJournalism website which you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook
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  • Any information or opinions above are the responsibility of the authors and/or originating outlets and may not reflect the work or opinions of MPE, its donors, or partners. Contents above may be edited slightly for presentation.

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