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Ethiopia: ICRC calls for respect of people’s lives amidst escalating tensions
by HRW, ICRC, Reliefweb, agencies
23 Nov. 2020
UN ‘extremely concerned’ for safety of Tigray civilians in regional capital, as refugee numbers grow. (UN News)
The UN on Monday said it was “extremely concerned” over the safety of civilians across Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as fighting between Government troops and those loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) reportedly continued, with the Ethiopian Prime Minister having called on opposition forces to surrender the capital Mekelle, by Wednesday.
Due to a near total communications blackout across Tigray, establishing facts on the ground is proving difficult, but UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told correspondents at UN Headquarters that more than half a million people remain in Mekelle “following information that fighting might move into the city in the coming hours.”
The TPLF was formerly the dominant political party of government in Ethiopia, losing out at the ballot box in 2018, when Abiy Amed won the prime ministership that April, forming a ruling coalition that the TPLF reportedly declined to join. The TLPF’s leader has reportedly rejected the ultimatum to surrender, and pledged to fight on, denying also that Mekelle was encircled on Monday.
“The UN and its humanitarian partners in Ethiopia are urgently calling on all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including health facilities, and water systems”, added Mr. Dujarric.
Humanitarian colleagues are stressing that it is urgent that all parties to the conflict enable the free and safe movement of civilians fleeing in search of safety and assistance, “including across international and within national borders, regardless of their ethnic identification”, he said.
Nearly 39,000 people have now fled across the border into neighbouring Sudan, including 17,000 children.
A majority of the relocated refugees are women and children: “I have seen men are slaughtered in front of my own eyes. I cannot forget that”, one young woman told UNFPA officials in the southeast Sudanese camp at Um Raquba, during a needs assessment in the past few days.
“I ran from home when the gunfire was going off. I still don’t know where my father and brothers are.”
Many of the women and girls are fearful for their safety. Vulnerability to gender-based violence often increases during humanitarian crises.
“When I left, I fled with seven children. We travelled for four nights on foot across the bush and forest. During day, we hid”, one 37-year-old refugee told UNFPA. “I have two daughters, 20 and 18 years old. I cannot sleep soundly because I have anxiety over the safety of my daughters.”
Women’s reproductive health needs are also dangerously unmet. The nearest referral health facility able to provide post-rape treatment or emergency obstetric care is about 40 minutes from Um Raquba.
“One woman lost her baby after nine months of pregnancy due to a lack of services”, said Massimo Diana, UNFPA’s Representative in Sudan. The woman had arrived at the health centre too late to deliver safely. “No woman should have to go through this, and we are working to ensure services are available to save lives”, he added.
23 Nov. 2020 (Associated Press)
Ethiopia’s military is warning civilians in the besieged Tigray regional capital that there will be “no mercy” if they don’t “save themselves” before a final offensive to flush out defiant regional leaders — a threat that Human Rights Watch on Sunday said could violate international law.
“From now on, the fighting will be a tank battle,” spokesman Col. Dejene Tsegaye said late Saturday, asserting that the army was marching on the Tigray capital, Mekele, and would encircle it with tanks. “Our people in Mekele should be notified that they should protect themselves from heavy artillery.”
He accused the Tigray leaders of hiding among the population of the city of roughly a half-million people and warned civilians to “steer away” from them.
But “treating a whole city as a military target would not only unlawful, it could also be considered a form of collective punishment,” Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader tweeted Sunday. “In other words, war crimes,” former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice tweeted.
Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, in a new statement is giving the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front 72 hours to surrender, saying that “you are at a point of no return.” He accused the TPLF leaders of using religious sites, hotels, schools “and even cemeteries” as hideouts and using Mekele residents as human shields.
For days, Abiy’s government has asserted it was marching to Mekele in a final push to end the deadly conflict that erupted on Nov. 4 between the federal government and the heavily armed Tigray regional government. The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for a quarter century before Abiy took office and introduced dramatic political reforms and sidelined TPLF leaders.
Now, each side regards each other as illegal, complicating international pleas for dialogue amid worries that one of Africa’s most powerful and populous nations could fracture and destabilize the strategic Horn of Africa.
With communications and transport to the Tigray region almost completely severed, it’s difficult to verify the warring sides’ claims.
Meanwhile, a vast humanitarian crisis is unfolding, with the United Nations saying about 2 million people in Tigray urgently need help as food, fuel, medical and other supplies run desperately short.
Two refugee crises are growing. Over 35,000 Ethiopians have fled into a remote area of Sudan, where local communities and humanitarians have struggled to feed and accommodate them. And inside the Tigray region, the fighting has come close to camps that are home to nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea. Some of the Eritreans have now fled a second time, into Sudan.
* Agenda for Humanity: Respect the Rules of War:
* Report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:
13 Nov 2020
Amid emerging reports of mass killings in the town of Mai-Kadra, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday expressed increasing alarm at the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Ethiopian region of Tigray.
She warned that if the Tigray regional forces and Ethiopian Government forces continue down the path they are on “there is a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control, leading to heavy casualties and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia itself and across borders.. “The first priority right now must be to stop the fighting and prevent any further atrocities from taking place.”
The UN Human Rights Chief said that despite the severing of communications with Tigray making it difficult to verify the extent of the damage so far, she had received reports from a variety of sources suggesting increased airstrikes by Government forces as well as fierce ground fighting between the opposing forces.
“I am also extremely alarmed at reports of cuts to essential water and electricity supplies, in addition to the communications blackout and blocking of access by road and air,” she said. “This means there is already a dramatic impact on the civilian population, in addition to the risk of death or injury as a result of hostilities.”
The UN Human Rights Chief repeated her 6 November appeal to both sides to begin talks with the aim of an immediate cessation of hostilities.
“I strongly urge both sides to realize that there will be no winner in such a situation and begin a serious dialogue to resolve their differences without delay,” Bachelet said. “A protracted internal conflict will inflict devastating damage on both Tigray and Ethiopia as a whole, undoing years of vital development progress. It could, in addition, all too easily spill across borders, potentially destabilizing the whole sub-region.”
Ethiopia: Protect People as Tigray Crisis Escalates. (Human Rights Watch)
Early on November 4, 2020, the Ethiopian government began military operations in Tigray, one of the country’s semi-autonomous regions, in what Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said was a response to an attack on a federal military base by the ruling party in the region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF led the former coalition that ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in April 2018.
“Tight restrictions on access for aid agencies and communications mean that millions of people in Tigray affected by the fighting may be at grave risk,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Federal and regional authorities should respect the right to life and take all necessary measures to assist and protect the population.”
The fighting follows a year of growing tensions between the federal government and the Tigray authorities. The situation worsened after the federal government reconfigured the ruling coalition, which was responsible for serious human rights abuses, into a single party and postponed highly anticipated national elections, citing Covid-19-related health risks.
Several opposition parties condemned the decision, including the TPLF, which held its own regional elections in September, in defiance of the federal government’s decision.
Following the alleged attack on the federal military base, phone and internet communications were swiftly cut in the region, and the federal government soon after announced a round of airstrikes in areas around the regional capital, Mekelle.
By November 10, more than 14,000 Ethiopian refugees, half of whom were children, had crossed the border into Sudan – a number humanitarian agencies expect will swell in the coming days if the fighting continues.
Hundreds of people were also reportedly killed and injured on November 9 in an incident around Mai Kadra, in western Tigray where much of the fighting has occurred.
Authorities on both sides need to protect the population from the fighting, facilitate immediate and unhindered access to health and aid workers to help all those in need, and conduct an impartial investigation into the incident, Human Rights Watch said.
Six humanitarian agencies reported that the movement restrictions and the communication shutdown were significantly hampering their activities, including tending to those wounded and killed in the fighting.
Access into Tigray is blocked, including by road and air, while the border with Sudan remains partially closed, based on reports by the media and humanitarian agencies. Prior to the outbreak of fighting, reports highlighted that food and fuel were already in short supply, with over 600,000 people relying on food aid to survive.
The region is also home to 100,000 internally displaced people and 96,000 Eritrean refugees. Nearly 44 percent of those living in refugee camps are children.
Humanitarian reports on the situation in Tigray also highlight that the closure of banks and restrictions on essential goods such as food, water, fuel, electricity, and medical supplies risk compounding the suffering of a population already in need.
Under international human rights law, the Ethiopian government bears the primary responsibility to meet the needs of people on its territory. Lifting broad restrictions on services and granting humanitarian agencies access is essential to provide necessary aid to affected populations and avert a looming humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch said. The Tigray regional authorities are also responsible for addressing the needs of people under their effective control.
While the phone and internet shutdown has made it difficult for journalists and aid workers to document and confirm reports of the situation on the ground, Ethiopians outside the region have also been cut off from their relatives in Tigray.
Under Abiy’s administration, phone and network shutdowns have become routine during social and political unrest, including in the Oromia region, where the government has engaged in counterinsurgency operations within the last year. The current military action follows recurrent episodes of violence and unrest that have flared up throughout the country since 2018, leading to the displacement of nearly two million people since the start of 2020 alone.
12 Nov. 2020 (UN News)
With the fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray regional security forces coming into its first week, there is increasing concern for the protection of civilians. There are reports of civilian movement in search of protection within Tigray region as well as to the neighbouring Amhara region. Details are not known yet.
The UN is also alarmed by the already large number of Ethiopian asylum seekers who have crossed into Sudan fleeing the hostilities in Tigray or out of fear of attack.
The UN and humanitarian partners call for full access to reach people in need; to conduct needs assessments; to allow safe passage for civilians in search of safety and assistance; and to guarantee the security of aid workers.
In addition to concerns over disrupted humanitarian assistances to more than 2 million people in Tigray region, there is also rising concern over the inability to assess additional humanitarian needs that are likely to spike.
Priority needs in the region include protection of civilians and children, gender-based violence, refugee response, food and cash assistance, health and water, sanitation and hygiene.
The UN calls on federal and regional authorities to enable humanitarian access to reach people in need in areas under their respective control.
Nov. 2020
Hundreds killed as Ethiopia edges towards civil war, report from Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
On 4 November Ethiopia’s federal government launched a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party in the northern Tigray region. Hundreds of people have been killed in the resulting fighting. Critical humanitarian aid is struggling to reach up to 2 million people, including almost 200,000 internally displaced persons and refugees.
The federal government alleges that their military offensive was launched after the TPLF attacked a military base in the region, which the TPLF deny. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated the offensive has “clear, limited and achievable objectives” and has resisted international calls to end the fighting.
The TPLF controlled Ethiopia’s government for 27 years until a mass protest movement that eventually led to the appointment of Prime Minister Abiy in 2018. Tensions have been rising between the federal government and the TPLF since the postponement of federal elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accusing Prime Minister Abiy of trying to illegally extend his rule, the TPLF held regional elections on 9 September which the federal government deemed illegitimate.
The offensive in Tigray comes at a time when ethnically-based attacks are on the rise throughout the country. On 1 November at least 54 ethnic Amhara civilians were killed by an armed group in West Welega Zone in the Oromia region, after federal forces abruptly left the area. An armed militia also killed up to 140 civilians in the Metakal Zone of Benishangul-Gumuz region during September.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that, “unaddressed, such violence only leaves desolation, feeds revenge and leads to further intercommunal clashes and to more casualties and displacement in the country.”
With more than 1.8 million people already displaced as a result of ongoing insecurity, many Ethiopians remain deeply distrustful of state authorities. Some populations also feel marginalized by Ethiopia’s federalist system of government and allege that it has resulted in ethnic favoritism and discrimination.
Federal government forces and the TPLF should work to resolve the political crisis through peaceful means. The Ethiopian government must confront the underlying sources of conflict in the country and implement reforms to protect human rights and guarantee equal access to government services and resources. All military operations should be conducted in strict adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law.
6 Nov. 2020 (ICRC)
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls on those taking part in clashes in northern Ethiopia to respect people’s lives and property as well as their access to timely medical care and assistance.
"We are deeply concerned that a military escalation in northern Ethiopia could trigger a wider humanitarian emergency in which people are displaced from their homes and unable to meet their basic needs," said Katia Sorin, the head of delegation for the ICRC in Ethiopia. "This can be averted if people's lives and property are protected and respected."
The ICRC is closely following developments and stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance as needed. Its partner, the Ethiopia Red Cross Society, is one of the main ambulance providers in the area. "Unimpeded access for Red Cross ambulances and teams to the wounded and those in need will be crucial if clashes escalate," said Katia Sorin.
The present military action in northern Ethiopia come on top of recurrent episodes of violence that have flared around the country. Many people have been killed, injured, and displaced in different parts of Ethiopia.
The ICRC has long had a presence in northern Ethiopia to help those impacted by different situations of violence. This includes ensuring people have access to water and sanitation facilities, distributing essential household items, and providing cash assistance.
It is also responding to needs created by violence in other parts of the country, such as Oromia, Benshangul-Gumuz, Amhara and Somali Regional State.
Nov. 2020 (Reliefweb)
The United Nations Acting Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Ms. Pramila Patten and the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Ms. Karen Smith expressed deep concern over reports of escalating ethnic tensions in Ethiopia and recent military clashes in the Tigray region, in which many civilians have allegedly been killed.
The two Special Advisers have received reports of incidents of ethnically and religiously motivated hate speech, incitement to violence and serious human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, killings, displacement of populations and destruction of property in various parts of the country.
The Special Advisers strongly condemned reports of targeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnicity or religion.
The Special Advisers observed that ethnic violence in Ethiopia has reached an alarming level over the past two years. The two senior UN officials noted that stigmatization of certain ethnic groups, including the Tigray, Amhara, Somali as well as the Oromo among others has significantly contributed to ethnic intolerance in the country.
“The ongoing ethnic rhetoric, hate speech, incitement to violence and attacks prevailing in Ethiopia constitutes a serious threat to internal and regional stability and should immediately be addressed to avert further escalation of widespread violence,” the Special Advisers warned.
Ms. Patten and Ms. Smith stressed that ethnically motivated attacks and reportedly ethnic profiling of citizens constitute a dangerous trajectory that heightens the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, commonly referred to as atrocity crimes.
In the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the Member States of the United Nations unanimously pledged to protect populations from these crimes. While the protection of populations is the primary responsibility of States, the international community also has a responsibility to assist national authorities in protecting its populations whenever necessary.
“We strongly urge the Ethiopian authorities to take urgent measures to protect its population from further violence and strongly encourage them to seek assistance from the international community, including from the United Nations and regional actors to aid in deescalating the rising tensions in the country, especially ahead of the forthcoming elections”, the Special Advisers stated. They warned that if these urgent measures are not immediately taken, the risk of atrocity crimes in Ethiopia remains high.
* 15.11.2020:
At least 34 people have been killed in a "gruesome" attack on a passenger bus in Western Ethiopia. (Reuters)
Gunmen in western Ethiopia killed at least 34 people in an attack on a bus on Saturday night, the national human rights body said on Sunday.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said the number of people killed was likely to rise after what it called a “gruesome” attack on the passenger bus in the Benishangul-Gumuz region. It said there were reports of “similar” attacks, and of people fleeing the violence, in other parts of the region.
“The latest attack is a grim addition to the human cost which we bear collectively,” Daniel Bekele, commission head, said in a statement. He urged regional and federal authorities to work together on a strategy for Benishangul-Gumuz due to the “unrelenting pace” of attacks there. Armed militia men killed at least 45 people in the same region in September, according to the Ethiopian government.
The violence comes amid a 12-day-old war between the Ethiopian government and the restive Tigray region in the country’s north.

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Urgent assistance needed for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence in Mozambique
by MSF, UN News, ReliefWeb, agencies
11 Nov. 2020 (UN News)
The United Nations Secretary-General has called on the authorities in Mozambique to investigate brutal killings this past weekend, in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado province, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, on Tuesday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed shock over the reports of massacres by non-State armed groups in several villages, including reported mass-beheadings, and kidnapping of women and children. “He strongly condemns this wanton brutality,” the statement said.
“The Secretary-General urges the country’s authorities to conduct an investigation into these incidents, and to hold those responsible to account. He calls on all parties to the conflict to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.”
Mr. Guterres also reiterated the UN's commitment to continue to support the people and Government of Mozambique in urgently addressing immediate humanitarian needs and efforts to uphold human rights, promote development and prevent the spread of violent extremism.
According to media reports, an armed militant group attacked several villages in northern parts of the province between 6 and 8 November, brutally killing more than 50 people, abducting several women and children and burning down homes.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado province deteriorated in 2020, on the back of an escalating conflict, compounded by a fragile situation of chronic underdevelopment, consecutive climatic shocks and recurrent disease outbreaks.
Increasing number of attacks by non-State armed groups, particularly impacting the northern and eastern districts of the province, have driven massive and multiple displacements, disrupting people’s livelihoods and access to basic services.
More than 355,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, and its neighbouring Nampula and Niassa provinces, as of the end of October 2020, with numbers said to be rising by the day. The violence, displacements and consequent loss of livelihoods are also increasing food insecurity in Cabo Delgado: over 710,000 people are facing severe hunger, including displaced persons and host communities.
10 Nov. 2020 (BBC News)
In three days of violence in northern Mozambique, Islamist insurgents attacked villages in Miudumbe and Macomia districts, in Cabo Delgado province, killing people, abducting women and burning homes.
Hundreds of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the Islamist insurgency began more than three years ago.
The BBC reports the militants are linked to the Islamic State (IS) group. The BBC's Jose Tembe reported from the capital, Maputo, that the latest attack was probably the worst carried out by the militants.
The gunmen opened fired and set homes alight when they raided Nanjaba village on Friday night, the state-owned Mozambique News Agency quoted survivors as saying. Two people were beheaded in the village and several women abducted, the news agency added.
A separate group of militants carried out another brutal attack on Muatide village, where they beheaded more than 50 people, the news agency reported. Villagers who tried to flee were caught, and taken to the local football pitch where they were beheaded and chopped to pieces in an atrocity carried out from Friday night to Sunday, Pinnancle News reported.
Mozambique's government has appealed for international help to curb the insurgency. In April, more than 50 people were beheaded or shot dead in an attack on a village in Cabo Delgado and earlier this month, nine people were beheaded in the same province.
Human rights groups say Mozambican security forces have also carried human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, during operations to curb the insurgency.
3 Nov. 2020
Urgent assistance needed for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence in Mozambique. (MSF)
Over 400,000 people from Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado have been displaced according to government estimates announced last week. After fleeing violence from ongoing attacks by armed groups and military actions from Mozambican forces, these displaced people now face serious health risks and inadequate living conditions, says Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
“Approximately 10,000 displaced people arrived by boat to the provincial capital of Pemba last week alone,” said Joaquim Guinart, MSF project coordinator in Cabo Delgado. “They were dehydrated. Women gave birth at sea.”
“There have been cases of severe, potentially fatal, diarrhoea,” said Guinart. “There’s a lot of pressure on local medical staff, as 20,000 people have arrived throughout the last month and more will continue to come.”
Approximately 100,000 internally displaced people have sought refuge in and around Pemba in temporary shelter sites, such as school buildings, or with host families, increasing the city’s population by a third. Many displaced lack clean drinking water and are exposed to malaria with barely any protection, while they remain in unsanitary, crowded conditions, increasing the risk of an outbreak of measles, diarrhoea or COVID-19.
With no end in sight, the fighting that started in October 2017 has continued to increase in intensity. It has forced almost a fifth of the province’s people to leave their homes and reduced access to care and other services in the area to almost nothing.
MSF had to suspend our medical humanitarian activities in Mocimboa da Praia in March, followed by Macomia in May, after an insurgent attack during which the health centre in Macomia where MSF staff worked was ransacked and burned. It is estimated that more than 20 local health facilities have been destroyed during the conflict.
We have relocated our base to the city of Pemba, where we have been providing medical assistance to arriving IDPs and the host community. Even so, we are struggling to continue our activities in Cabo Delgado due to administrative constraints and COVID-19 travel restrictions, which forces us to work with minimal capacity while needs continue to grow exponentially.
“MSF is deeply concerned about the continued violence and deteriorating conditions in Cabo Delgado and the quickly growing number of displaced people, especially with the onset of the rainy season,” said MSF Head of Mission for Mozambique Alain Kassa. “The basic needs of the displaced people remain largely unmet despite existing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.”
“If no immediate action is taken, this situation will rapidly deteriorate,” said Kassa. “MSF calls upon the Mozambican authorities for support to mobilize additional humanitarian staff and supplies without delay.”
30 Oct. 2020
Escalation of conflict and violence drive massive displacements and increased humanitarian needs in Cabo Delgado. (OCHA)
The humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado Province, in northern Mozambique, significantly deteriorated over the last 10 months. The ongoing conflict in the region has escalated in 2020, compounding a fragile situation marked by chronic underdevelopment, consecutive climatic shocks and recurrent disease outbreaks.
The increasing number of attacks by nonstate armed groups, particularly impacting the northern and eastern districts of the Province, are driving massive and multiple displacements, disrupting people’s livelihoods and access to basic services.
More than 355,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, up from less than 90,000 at the first months of 2020, according to preliminary data from IOM. The numbers continue to increase daily.
More than 11,000 people arrived in Cabo Delgado’s capital Pemba from 16 to 30 October alone, fleeing violence in Ibo, Quissanga and Macomia districts. The violence, displacements and consequent loss of livelihoods are also increasing food insecurity in Cabo Delgado.
Over 710,000 people are facing severe hunger, including people displaced and host communities.
The overlap of conflict and climatic shocks with pre-existing vulnerabilities in the region—including poverty, marginalization and harmful social and gender norms—significantly heightened protection risks. Women and children are at particular risk of abuse, in addition to lack of access to education for girls and boys.
In Cabo Delgado Province, internally displaced people (IDPs) are mostly concentrating in the southern districts, due to safety and security as well as access to humanitarian assistance.
The escalation in violence has also impacted humanitarian assistance when people need it the most. Access to people affected widely reduced in 2020, especially in the northern districts of Cabo Delgado, and humanitarian organizations are facing incredible challenges to operate and reach those who need assistance, either due to the insecurity itself, infrastructure or administrative obstacles.
Several attacks reported over the last few months on district capitals (Mocimboa da Praia, Quissanga, Muidumbe and Macomia districts) have forced many humanitarian actors to temporarily relocate from vital hub locations into the southern districts of Cabo Delgado, reducing their ability to assess and respond to the rising needs.
At the same time, transport is incredibly challenging throughout the Province, as roads and infrastructure are in poor conditions. Moreover, physical access is expected to deteriorate further due to the approaching rainy season, between November 2020 and April 2021.

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