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Travel Security Advice for the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos

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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) is a poor, developing country ruled by an authoritarian, Communist, one-party government.  Political power is centralized in the Lao People's Revolutionary Party.  Services and facilities for tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, but are extremely limited in other parts of the country.  Read the Department of State Background Notes on Laos for additional information.

Registration:

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Laos are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State travel registration page, so that they can obtain updated information on local travel and security.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Registration is important; it allows the State Department to U.S. citizens in an emergency.

Entry/Exit Requirements:

A passport and visa are required.  The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that visas can be issued upon arrival in Laos to U.S. citizen tourists with two passport-size photographs and $35 at the following ports of entry: Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Pakse, Savannakhet, and Luang Prabang Airports; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane and Savannakhet; and land-border crossings at Boten-Bohan and Vangtao-Chong Mek, and at the ferry crossing at Thakhaek-Nakhorn Phanom.  Visa on arrival is also available at the Tha Naleng train station in Vientiane, which connects to the train station in Nongkhai, Thailand.  Persons who have obtained an entry visa prior to their arrival in Laos may also enter at the following international entry points: Chiang Saen-Huaixay, Khammouane-Nakhonphanom, Savannakhet-Mukdahan, Daensayanh-Laobao, Namphao-Kaopae, and Namkan.  Foreign tourists are generally admitted to Laos for 30 days. U.S. citizens born in Laos may be admitted for 60 days or longer.  The Department of Immigration in Vientiane will extend 30-day tourist visas up to an additional 60 days for a fee of $2 per day.  Foreigners who overstay their visas in Laos risk arrest and upon departure will be fined $10 for each day of overstay.  The Lao government requires payment of visa fees and fines in U.S. dollars.  Thai baht and Lao kip may sometimes be accepted for the fees, but at unfavorable exchange rates.

Foreign tourists who wish to obtain a visa in advance may contact a Lao embassy or consulate. In the United States, visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can be obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-332-6416, fax: 202-332-4923.  U.S. citizens who enter Laos with visitor visas issued at a Lao embassy abroad are permitted to remain in Laos for 60 days.

Business visas can only be arranged in advance; a company or individual “sponsor” must contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Vientiane and request a visa for the traveler by offering a “guarantee”.  Once this request is approved by the MFA, the approval will be communicated to the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC, and the U.S. traveler may then apply for the business visa.  This process normally takes 1-3 months.  After the traveler’s arrival, these visas can usually be extended for one month.

U.S. citizens should not attempt to enter Laos without valid travel documents or outside of official ports of entry.  Travelers should not cross the border between Laos and Thailand along the Mekong River except at official immigration check crossings.  Persons attempting to enter Laos outside of official ports of entry may be arrested, detained, fined and deported.

Immigration offices at some of the less-used land border crossing points are not well marked.  Travelers should make sure that they complete immigration and customs formalities when they enter or depart Laos.  Travelers who enter Laos without completing these formalities may be subject to fine, detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points.  These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship, such as the child’s birth certificate, and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present.  Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

At Wattay Airport (Vientiane), Pakse Airport, Savannakhet Airport, and the Luang Prabang Airport, there is an international airport departure tax of US$10.  This tax may be included in the price of the airline ticket, depending on the carrier.  At the Friendship Bridge (Vientiane, Laos - Nong Khai, Thailand border crossing) there is an overtime fee after 4:00 pm weekdays and during weekends.  Visit Lao Embassy’s web site for the more visa information.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Laos.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.

Threats to Safety and Security:

There have been reports in the past of violent incidents carried out by anti-government forces, including reports in 2007 of isolated clashes between Lao Government forces and unidentified opponents in the area of Vang Vieng in northern Vientiane Province, and in Bokeo Province.  The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Laos exercise caution and be alert to their surroundings at all times.

The Lao Government security forces often stop and check all transport on main roads, particularly at night.  Travelers should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.  U.S. citizens, especially those considering travel outside urban centers, are advised to contact relevant Lao government offices, such as Lao Immigration Police Headquarters in Vientiane, the Lao Tourist Police, local police and customs offices, or contact the U.S. Embassy for the most current security information.  To avoid trouble with the authorities, U.S. citizens traveling outside of normal tourist areas or contemplating any unusual activity (including, but not limited to, engaging in business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind) should consider seeking advance permission from the Village Chief, District Head, Provincial Governor, or National Tourism Authority, as appropriate.

More than 300 casualties per year are caused by the large amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos left over from the Indochina War.  Some parts of Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, Luang Prabang and Vientiane Provinces are contaminated by UXO.  In addition, numerous mine fields are left over from the war, including mine fields along Route 7 (from Route 13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane).  Travelers in Laos should never pick up unknown metal objects and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks and paths.

U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution in remote areas along the Lao border with Burma.  Bandits, drug traffickers, and other people pursuing illegal activities operate in these border areas, as do armed insurgent groups opposed to the government of Burma.

From 2004 to 2006, seven Lao-American and Hmong-American citizens were murdered in northern and northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos.  During the same period, a number of non-Americans with ties to Laos were also murdered in this region of Thailand.  In most of these cases, no arrests have been made.  If U.S. citizens, particularly Lao-Americans or Hmong-Americans, travel to these areas, they should exercise caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.  It is also recommended that persons wishing to travel to border areas check first with the Thai Police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai or the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site. It contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.

Crime:

Laos generally has a low rate of violent crime, but travelers should remain aware of their surroundings and exercise appropriate security precautions.  With the introduction of methamphetamines and other illicit drugs, thefts and assaults in Vientiane have increased and some have turned violent.  Bag-snatching has increased and sexual assaults have also occurred.  Residential burglary is commonplace.  Expatriates attempting to report burglaries in progress to the police often find that police telephones are not answered or they are informed that the police are not authorized to respond to criminal activity at night or that they have no transportation.  U.S. citizens who move to Vientiane are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy Vientiane for security advice.

Travelers in Vientiane should exercise caution, particularly after dark, at roadside restaurants and stalls near the banks of the Mekong River.  Foreigners are often the victims of purse snatchings while sitting down to eat or while riding bicycles or motorcycles in this area.  To help ensure the security of valuables and documents carried on their person, travelers should carry them in bags that cannot be easily stolen.  U.S. citizens traveling to Vang Vieng should be aware that some tourists have been robbed and assaulted while walking alone to the caves on the far side of the Nam Song River.  Camping at night anywhere except in authorized campgrounds in national parks is dangerous.   Many restaurants in popular tourist locations in the Vang Vieng area offer menu items, particularly “pizzas,” “shakes” or “teas,” which may contain unknown substances or opiates.  These products are often advertised as “happy” or “special” items.  These substances or opiates can be dangerous, causing illness and death.

Over the last year, several foreigners, including U.S. citizens, died in Laos after using illegal drugs, such as methamphetamines, opium, or heroin.  The potency of some of these drugs can be several times that of similar substances found in the U.S.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.  Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.  In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.  The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Division in the U.S. State Department of Justice  has more information on this serious problem.

Victims of Crime:

If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see end of this sheet or see the Department of State list of embassies and consulates ).  This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency lines in Laos are 190 for fire, 191 for traffic police, and 195 for ambulance.  The Tourist Police can be reached in Vientiane at 021-251-128. 

Please see our information on victims of crime , including possible victim compensation programs in the United States. 

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States .

Persons violating Lao laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Criminal justice procedures, such as police interrogations, court hearings, requesting bail, or sentencing, are not clearly defined or regulated.  Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Laos are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Special Circumstances

Travel of Foreigners within Laos:  The Lao tourist police have informed foreign tourists that a licensed Lao tour guide must accompany any group of more than 5 foreign tourists; however, this regulation does not appear to be strictly enforced.  The authorities may restrict travel in rural areas outside of popular tourist destinations.  Restricted areas may not be marked or even widely known by local citizens.  If traveling without a reputable tour guide who is aware of local conditions, travelers should consult with local authorities before entering remote areas away from obvious tourist destinations.  Lao citizens who wish to have a foreign citizen -- including a family member -- stay in their home must obtain prior approval from the village chief.  The foreigner may be held responsible if the Lao host has not secured prior permission for the visit.  American citizens are strongly advised to ensure that such permission has been granted before accepting offers to stay in Lao homes.  Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.  Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.  Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with the local authorities.  See Section below on Photography and Other Restrictions.

Relationship with Lao Citizens:   Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law.  Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined.  Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to $5,000 on foreigners who enter into unapproved sexual relationships.  The Lao party to the relationship may be jailed without trial.  Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent.

Foreign citizens intending to marry Lao nationals are required by Lao law to obtain prior permission from the Lao Government.  The formal application process can take as long as a year.  American citizens may obtain information about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.  The Lao Government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed.  Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of $500-$5,000, and deportation.  A foreigner who cohabits with or enters into a close relationship with a Lao national may be accused by Lao authorities of entering into an illegal marriage and be subject to these same penalties.  A foreign citizen who wishes to become engaged to a Lao national is required to obtain prior permission from the chief of the village where the Lao national resides.  Failure to obtain prior permission can result in a fine of $500-$5,000.  Lao police may impose a large fine on a foreign citizen a few days after he or she holds an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion that the couple subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.

Marriage:  A Lao Prime Ministerial decree requires that marriages of Lao citizens performed abroad be registered with Lao embassies in order to be legal in Laos.  If an American citizen marries a Lao citizen in the U.S. and then the couple comes to Laos, the American could be subject to penalties under the Lao law governing sexual relationships (above) if the marriage has not been registered beforehand with a Lao embassy.

Religious Wrokers:   Religious proselytizing or distributing religious material is strictly prohibited.  Foreigners caught distributing religious material may be arrested or deported.  The Government of Laos restricts the importation of religious texts and artifacts.  While Lao law allows freedom of religion, the Government registers and controls all associations, including religious groups.  Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered and those held outside of established locations may be broken up and the participants arrested.

Mode of Transportation:   U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within Laos are advised to carefully evaluate the relative risks of the three modes of transport (see sections on Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety, and River Travel below).  Travelers should also exercise caution if contemplating swimming in rivers in Laos. Currents can be deceptive and strong. 

River Travel:  River travel is common in Laos, but safety conditions do not conform to U.S. standards.  In particular, travel by speedboat (local term “fast boat”) is dangerous and should be avoided, particularly during the dry season, which generally runs from December through April.  Travel on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be avoided at night.  Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the Mekong after dark.  Several people have drowned during the rainy season while inner-tubing or swimming in the Nam Song River near Vang Vieng.  Currents can be deceptive and strong.

Photography and Other Restrictions:   Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest — including bridges, airfields, military installations, government buildings, or government vehicles — may result in problems with authorities, including detention or arrest and confiscation of the camera.  Tourists should be cautious when traveling near military bases and strictly observe signs delineating the military base areas.  Military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who have unknowingly passed by unmarked military facilities.  Because of the prohibition on religious proselytizing, travelers should use caution when taking photographs or videotaping non-Buddhist religious services.  If attending public services or religious gatherings, foreigners should ask permission from the local police and civil authorities to photograph or videotape.  See section above on Religious Workers. Local police may suspect persons using any kind of sophisticated still or video camera equipment of being professional photographers or possibly photojournalists, which may lead to questioning, detention, arrest or deportation by the police.

Financial Transactions:   There are network-connected ATMs in Vientiane, including those operated by the Australia and New Zealand Bank – Vientiane (ANZV) and the Foreign Commercial Bank of Laos, also known as the Banque Pour le Commerce Exterieur de Laos (BCEL).  BCEL also has network-connected ATMS in Vang Vieng, and the Provincial capital cities, or “Muang”, of Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, Luangprabang, Khammouan, Savannakhet, and Champasak Provinces.  These machines are generally limited to withdrawals of the equivalent of about 100 U.S. dollars in Lao kip only.  Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and tourist-oriented businesses.  Credit card cash advances and/or Western Union money transfers are available at banks in most provincial capitals and other tourist centers.  While the government requires that prices be quoted in Lao kip, prices are often given in U.S. dollars or Thai baht, especially in tourist areas or at markets.  The Lao Government requires payment in U.S. dollars for some taxes and fees, including visa fees and the airport departure tax.

Customs/Currency Regulations:   Lao customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Laos of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, foreign currency, cameras and other items.  It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.  (Please also see section on “Religious Workers” above).  There are prohibitions against importing or exporting more than $2500 (U.S. dollar equivalent) of currency without authorization.  Contact the Lao Embassy or Lao customs authorities for more details.

Medical Facilities and Health Information:

Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. In Vientiane, U.S. citizens may wish to contact the Primary Care Center, also known as the Centre medical de L’Ambassade de France (CMAF), which is supported by the French Embassy.  The CMAF is located on Khou Vieng Road across the street from the Green Park Hotel, Tel. +856-21-214-150, or +856-20-558-4617, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  U.S. citizens in Laos often seek medical care in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos, to Nong Khai, Thailand, is open daily 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Officials generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in cases of medical emergency. AEK International Hospital (tel: 66-42-342-555) and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital, both in Udorn, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) have English-speaking staff accustomed to dealing with foreign patients. Nong Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand, (tel: 66-1-833-4262) can handle most simple medical procedures. Ambulances for both AEK International Hospital and Nong Khai Wattana Hospital have permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel: 021-413-720) can take patients to Thailand. The Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these hospitals.

Avian Influenza and H1N1 Influenza:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Lao authorities have confirmed the presence in Laos of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as “bird flu.” In 2007, two Lao nationals died after contracting the H5N1 virus.  Travelers to Laos and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals.  In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs.  In June 2009, the Lao government confirmed the first case of 2009-H1N1 Influenza A.  The Lao government’s influenza hotline may be reached by calling 166 from anywhere in Laos.  This hotline may be used to report suspected cases of influenza in animals or humans, or to obtain information on areas in Laos where influenza may have been recently detected.  Operators speak Lao and English.  For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Laos, see the State Department’s Pandemic Influenza Fact SheetFor information about 2009-H1N1 Influenza, including steps you can take to stay healthy, can be found at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, the U.S. Government pandemic influenza  website, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website.

There is a problem with counterfeit pharmaceuticals throughout Southeast Asia.  American citizens should be aware of this problem and purchase pharmaceuticals only through the most reputable pharmacies with a physician’s prescription.

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious deseases section of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) websiteThe WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information .

Medical insurance:


The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad.  Important questions are whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page .

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.  The information below concerning Laos is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased.  U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Laos before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who was at fault.  A driver involved in a traffic accident should remain at the scene and attempt to contact the police or wait for them to arrive to prepare an accident report.  If renting a car or motorcycle, contact the rental company and its insurance agent.  If there is major damage, injury or death, contact the Consular Section or the Duty Officer at the U.S. Embassy.  When renting a car, motorcycle or bicycle, U.S. citizens should not give their original U.S. passport to the owner of the vehicle as surety against loss, theft, or damage to the vehicle.

Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough.  Few roads have lane markings.  Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored.  Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced and uninsured.  Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is not uncommon, and penalties for such offenses may not be enforced.  Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road.  Motorcyclists pay little or no heed to cars.  Motorcycles carry as many as five people, greatly impeding the drivers' ability to react to traffic.  The evening hours are particularly dangerous.  Road construction sites are poorly marked, appear with no advance warning, and can be difficult to see at night.  Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and trucks without reflectors commonly park on unlit roads.

Travelers are also advised to be cautious when traveling the roads of Laos and to check with local authorities, transport companies, other travelers, and/or the Embassy regarding any recent developments prior to travel.  Road obstacles such as changes in surface conditions due to the weather occur frequently. 

Public transportation is unreliable and is limited after sunset. Automobile taxis or cars for hire are available at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, and most major hotels, and near the Morning Market in Vientiane. The most common form of public transport is three-wheeled, open-sided taxis called "tuk-tuks.”  Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor repair, and drivers generally speak little or no English.  Inter-city transport is provided by buses, vans, pickups, and trucks, which may also be in poor repair.

Emergency services in Laos are either unreliable or non-existent.  Lao road traffic regulations require any driver coming upon a road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital. 

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Laos, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Lao Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Laos’s air carrier operations.  Further information may be found on the FAA safety assessment page .

Children’s Issues:

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

Embassy Location:

The U.S. Embassy is located on Rue Bartholonie (near Tat Dam), in Vientiane; from the U.S., mail may be addressed to U.S. Embassy Vientiane, Unit 8165, Box V, APO AP 96546; Telephone (856-21) 267-000, recorded emergency information for American citizens (856-21) 267-111; duty officer emergency cellular telephone (856-20) 550-2016; Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 267-190.  You may also email the  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (website: http://laos.usembassy.gov/.) .

This replaces the Country Specific Information for Laos dated November 17, 2008, to update sections on Registration, Entry/Exit Requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Medical Insurance, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

 


 

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding travel to Laos HERE....

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out our World Wide Embassies Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens)..............

There is also a Malaria Warning for Laos HERE....

Regards

The SW Team....

 

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