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U.S. Department of State
96/04/22 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman

 
                        U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                          DAILY PRESS BRIEFING 
                               I N D E X  
                         Monday, April 22, 1996 
 
                                             Briefer:  Glyn Davies 
 
ANNOUNCEMENTS 
   Welcome to Visitors......................................  1     
 
NORTH KOREA 
   Berlin Talks.............................................  1-2 
   Proposed 4-Way Talks.....................................  2 
   POW/MIA Issues/Liaison Offices...........................  2-3 
 
MIDDLE EAST 
   Israel/Lebanon 
   --U.S. Diplomatic Efforts................................  3,4-5 
   --Situation Update.......................................  3-4 
   --Humanitarian Assistance................................  4 
   --Role of Russia/International Initiatives...............  4-5 
   Saudi Arabia:  Arrest of Accused Terrorists..............  5 
   Public Announcement on International Travel..............  5-7 
 
ITALY 
   Elections................................................  7 
 
TURKEY 
   Allegation Concerning the American-Kurdish Information...   
     Network................................................  7-8 
 
HONG KONG 
   Meetings between Department Officials and Martin Lee.....  8-9 
 
RUSSIA 
   Chechnya: Peace Initiative...............................  9-10 
 
RE: Case of Sister Diana Ortiz..............................  10 
 
AFGHANISTAN: Travel of Assistant Secretary Raphel in Region.  10-11 
 
LIBERIA 
   Cease-fire/Reported Looting and Sporadic Gunfire.........  11,12 
   Evacuation Efforts.......................................  11 
   Arrival of Amphibious Ready Group........................  12 
   Diplomatic Efforts.......................................  12,14 
   Work of Disaster Assistance Relief Team..................  12-13 
   Possible Solution Involving Roosevelt Johnson............  13 
 
RE: U.S. Position on Landmines..............................  13-14 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #63

MONDAY, APRIL 22, 1996, 1:11 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. DAVIES: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I asked earlier if we could go outside and do it outside today, but I was told no. Can't do it.

Just one announcement, and that's about visitors to today's press briefing. I would like to welcome a number of people. Brigitte Jensen, the head of communications at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is here today, joining us. So welcome to you.

Also, 14 journalists from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe who specialize in economic and business issues. Welcome to all of you.

Then finally, Rachel Shelton, an Associate Producer at NBC.

And with that, I'll go to your questions.

Q You're not prepared to say anything on the Middle East, are you, beyond what the party is saying, is that right? (Laughter)

MR. DAVIES: I don't have a lot to say. You can try me.

Q Can we go straight to North Korea then?

MR. DAVIES: We can go straight to North Korea, if you wish, and we can come back to the Middle East, if anybody else wants to come back.

Q Can you tell us about the weekend talks in Berlin?

MR. DAVIES: I can tell you that the talks took place. They took place on Saturday and Sunday. These were talks on non-proliferation issues, specifically missile non-proliferation, between the United States and the DPRK, North Korea.

These talks occurred at, I guess you could call it, the Ambassadorial level or the senior expert level. Leading our delegation was Deputy Assistant Secretary Bob Einhorn, who is our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation.

Leading the DPRK side was a gentleman by the name of Li Hyong Chol, who is Director of the Foreign Ministry's U.S. Department. We don't have much to say in the way of comment, because these talks were preliminary. We hope to go on to hold more talks, perhaps in a series on this subject. But these talks were useful. They made a good beginning, and we hope to continue our dialogue and get back together again, although we haven't agreed on a date nor a place to do that.

Q Glyn, did the issue of Clinton's peace initiative for North and South Korea and the four-way talks come up at all?

MR. DAVIES: Not in any direct way, if it did at all. I don't know that it did, but these talks weren't about the peace initiative. They were about missile proliferation and trying to get the North Koreans roped into the various regimes that exist to curtail missile exports from those countries that produce them. They weren't about peace on the Korean peninsula or any larger issues.

Q I understand that, but, that having been said before, it would be nice to know if in fact that issue came up, if the North Koreans, despite what you said publicly beforehand, tried to raise the issue anyway.

MR. DAVIES: I don't believe they did. Let me leave it at that. If that's not accurate, I'll let you know.

Q Is there any talk about arranging with the North Koreans talks on bilateral relations in general with Tom Hubbard?

MR. DAVIES: There's at least one thing that's going on, and that is, of course, that we'd like to talk to the North Koreans about POW/MIA issues that date from the Korean war; and then, of course, there's the President and the South Korean President's initiative, which is out there for four-party talks. But I don't have anything to announce about any other talks that might be underway.

Q What about reports of an exchange of liaison offices in October or November between North Korea and the U.S.?

MR. DAVIES: We've seen those reports as well. That again is something that I guess falls under the category of the MIA/POW talks. I mean, these are things that are, if you will, on the broader, really almost unwritten, agenda between the two countries -- areas where we'd like to make progress -- but I don't have anything to announce about that.

Q Do you have anything on the MIA/POW talks in New York?

MR. DAVIES: No, I don't.

Q Supposedly there's a State Department official in Pyongyang now from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Can you tell us who that is and what the purpose of his trip is?

MR. DAVIES: I can't. I don't have anything on that, but I'm happy to check to see if somebody might be there. I mean, I'd be surprised, but one never knows.

Q Is there any overview you can give us on the Middle East talks? I know that the parties there, obviously, and talking.

MR. DAVIES: Again, it won't surprise you that I can't go beyond what's being said in the region, because that's where the action is. The Secretary of State is out there. He's working intensively on this. He's been back and forth to the two principal capitals there -- Damascus and Tel Aviv.

The overall situation in Lebanon hasn't changed appreciably in the last few days. Hizbollah continues to fire Katyusha rockets at civilian targets in northern Israel, and Israel continues to respond to those attacks.

Secretary Christopher went to Damascus on Saturday. He met with Syrian President Assad. Actually, he had two separate meetings with the Syrian President. Then on Sunday, he flew to Jerusalem and met with Israeli Prime Minister Peres, and today he is back in Damascus meeting with President Assad.

I was just on the phone with some of our people out there. They met for some hours, and that meeting is now over. Perhaps the Secretary will have something to say to the press afterwards.

Q Does the U.S. have a death toll on how many people have died in Lebanon in this latest round of (inaudible)?

MR. DAVIES: I don't know that we're keeping any particular account like that. I mean, it's a tragic situation. People are dying. People are being wounded. And that's one of the reasons that the Secretary of State changed his schedule, and at the direction of the President has gone down to the region on what is an open-ended mission to try to silence the guns and lay the groundwork for a more durable peace.

Q (inaudible) on Lebanon. I know the Ambassador on Friday requested $25,000 in emergency aid for relief agencies for the refugees in Lebanon, and they said -- people at USAID said you're looking into possible further needs in aid you might be giving to the refugees and to Lebanon this week. Do you have anything on that?

MR. DAVIES: That's about what I know. I didn't actually know about the $25,000, but that stands to reason. Ambassadors have authority to request certain modest amounts that are then used for humanitarian purposes in some circumstances, and that's perhaps what's being done there, though I can't confirm it.

I did mention on Friday that the United States was looking into ways in which we could participate from a humanitarian standpoint to help alleviate some of the impact on Lebanese civilians. But I don't have any specifics for you today on that.

Q Did the Secretary specifically ask the Israelis to lift their blockade of the Port of Beirut?

MR. DAVIES: I have nothing for you on that, and I'm about where I was on Friday, Jim, in terms of not wanting to get into any of the specifics of the Secretary's discussions with regional leaders, because to do so we believe might handicap his efforts, and he's still in full throttle, moving between capitals, trying to work something out.

So I would prefer not to get into what he might have requested of one party or another.

Q Why is the U.S. Government still objecting to international initiatives to try to put an end to the tension in the region?

MR. DAVIES: I don't believe the United States Government is objecting. What the United States Government is doing is, we're engaged in our own diplomatic initiative to try to help the parties out there bring an end to the fighting and then to move on to a more durable peace. Other diplomats are travelling in the area. The Russian Foreign Minister; France's Foreign Minister; Madame Agnelli, who represents the European Union. They are engaged in their efforts as well.

The Secretary of State remains in touch with those people. In fact, he had a meeting, I believe, when he was in Damascus with several of them, and again when he was in Israel, he had another meeting, I think, with Foreign Minister Primakov.

So he's in touch with them, but we believe that the way to proceed is with this diplomatic initiative that was launched by the President when he landed in St. Petersburg, that given our position historically on the issues and our influence and position in the Middle East, this is the best chance for some resolution to what's occurring out there. So the Secretary will keep his shoulder to the wheel, and we'll keep at it as long as it takes.

Q But also Russia, as being a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, might have something else to offer besides what Secretary Christopher has.

MR. DAVIES: And that is, I suppose, one reason why Secretary Christopher would have met with Minister Primakov, who is also, as I understand it, an expert on that part of the world. So I'm sure he does have something to offer. But when it comes to the diplomatic effort, we think what's important is to stay on track with what we're doing and to continue our discussions with the parties. To add others to that circle, I think, might complicate matters at this stage.

The others have their initiatives underway, and we certainly have no objection to that.

Q Any update on the arrest in Saudi Arabia of those guys that were accused of bombing, or of saying they bombed the -- in Riyadh -- last year? There were some arrests of --

MR. DAVIES: I saw the report of that, that Saudi authorities had arrested some people and taken them into custody, and had indicated, I think, that they might say something further publicly. But I think what I'll do is leave that to the Saudis who are responsible for security -- have jurisdiction, really, over those matters to comment further about it.

Q Glyn, on Friday, the Department issued a public announcement to Americans travelling abroad to take greater concern for their security in light of the recent events in the Middle East. Was that in response to any specific threats? Is there anything you can give us on that? And also a response to the threats yesterday for retaliation against Americans?

MR. DAVIES: No. That announcement that was made late on Friday was not in response to any particular threats. It was in response to what we view as heightened tension, quite naturally, in the wake of the events of the last week, week and a half; simply to caution Americans that when travelling in that part of the world, they should use an extra measure of caution.

We've had notices -- public notices -- out there for some time; notices of long-standing that point out to Americans some of the dangers of travelling in that part of the world. This was simply in light of what's been going on, a reminder to Americans to be very prudent when they're travelling in the Middle East.

Q The arrests that are reported in the papers today from over the weekend, the two Islamic groups, have there been increased security in any American installations? Is there a greater concern as a result of these -- because these organizations have certainly followed through on their threats in the past.

MR. DAVIES: Whenever we issue a public announcement like that to American citizens, in parallel, we take extra measures at our missions overseas.

Having travelled in that part of the world, I can tell you that our embassies and consulates and diplomatic establishments maintain, routinely, a very high level of readiness.

I don't think we've taken any precautions that are really out of the ordinary or extraordinary, but we're on our toes. It would be really reckless not to be. That's our situation.

Q How credible do you take those kidnapping threats?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have a particular reaction. We get threats frequently, especially my colleagues who serve out in that part of the world at embassies in the region are subject to this sort of thing much too often. So, are they credible, are they not credible?

We saw, I think at the end of the week, a report that an American had been taken hostage by some group and taken into the West Bank or Gaza and that this American would be killed if Israel didn't withdraw from southern Lebanon. That turned out not to have any foundation to it.

Though, of course, it's a situation that we monitor very closely. So this, I think, is unfortunately and tragically to be expected. When the United States becomes engaged in a diplomatic effort as important -- in a situation as tense as this -- you're going to get these kinds of threats. We take them all seriously and evaluate them all very carefully. But I don't have anything in particular to pass onto you by way of a greater-than-normal credence given these particular threats.

Q Change the subject. Is that okay?

MR. DAVIES: Can we do that? Sure.

Q A comment about the center-left victory in the Italian elections, and, specifically, about the probable entry in the government of the former communists?

MR. DAVIES: Those parliamentary elections in Italy, I don't believe are yet concluded or tabulated. The voting has happened. There are a number of press reports about what may or may not occur in terms of the composition of the Italian Government.

In our view, what we want to underscore is that we believe that Italian democracy remains strong and vibrant. Whatever the outcome, the final outcome of these elections, Italy will be, as it has been for many, many years, a close ally and friend to the United States.

So we look forward to working with whatever Italian Government may come out of these parliamentary elections.

Q On Friday, I had asked you for an assessment of the American-Kurdish Information Network. I wonder if you had ever gotten a reply on that?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have anything to report to you that's any different, perhaps from your standpoint, less than satisfactory answer I gave you on Friday.

What complicates comment on this, of course, is the fact that there is in custody an individual who may well have been associated with the American-Kurdish Information Network.

So, for the time being, given the judicial process that has to unfold in that case -- the case of Mr. Xulam -- who was arrested for passport fraud, I'm simply not going to have anything to add about that organization's relationship, if any, with the PKK.

Q The charge, as you know, has to do with passport fraud. This has to do with the paragraph in the affidavit which was filed by the State Department agents and refers to an allegation by the Turkish Government that this group is, in fact, associated with the PKK. Would you stand behind that or not? Is it just an idle thought?

MR. DAVIES: No. It's something that was given us by the Turkish Government. It was decided to include that information in the material that was handed over to the court. It doesn't necessarily mean that the United States associates itself with that analysis.

We simply thought it was relevant for the court to know the Turkish Government's view. So that's really the sum total, I think, of what I can say about that.

Q Presumably, if you thought it was total bogus, you wouldn't -- it would irresponsible to put it in a court document like that.

MR. DAVIES: What we did was, we got together the information we thought relevant to Mr. Xulam's case -- put it in the information for the court. I'm not going to assign a percentage veracity value to every item that's listed there.

We thought it was important for the court to know. You can draw whatever conclusions you wish. But given the work that must occur in the judicial process, I'm not going to complicate that effort by making any further comment about it.

Q Glyn, do you have anything on the meetings that the Chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, Martin Lee, had in this building this morning?

MR. DAVIES: Yes, I do. He did come into the State Department. Mr. Lee met with Winston Lord, who is Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He also had a separate meeting with Peter Tarnoff, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs -- the third ranking official in the State Department.

Acting Secretary Talbott, who is now back from accompanying the President to the meetings in Moscow, participated in a portion of Mr. Lee's meeting with Under Secretary Tarnoff.

We discussed with Mr. Lee the latest developments in Hong Kong. We noted with concern recent signals from the People's Republic of China that have tended to increase anxiety among Hong Kong people about prospects for a smooth transition to Chinese sovereignty. Of course, I'm referring there to some of the pronouncements from the People's Republic of China about disbanding the legislative council, about perhaps requiring loyalty oaths of civil servants. That sort of thing.

The U.S. position is that we strongly support the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. We believe that document is the cornerstone for Hong Kong's smooth transition and continued high degree of autonomy after it reverts to Chinese control.

Mr. Lee may have other meetings in town. I would refer you to the White House for comment on any meetings that he might have over there.

Q Another subject. What's the State Department's assessment of how President Yeltsin's peace initiative for Chechnya is going?

MR. DAVIES: When that initiative was first launched, we associated ourselves with it, as an answer to the warfare that's gone on for too long in Chechnya. We see different reports about what is occurring down there; one report, just in the last few days that there had been some movement on the part of the Russians to withdraw troops.

It remains a situation that we believe cannot be solved through military means or military confrontation. It has to be solved by negotiation and perhaps eventually some form of compromise. But we leave it to the Russians to decide precisely how to go forward. We hope that the Yeltsin initiative is one that gains momentum and ultimately bears some fruit.

I'm not aware of any very dramatic developments that I can report to you today that would indicate that it's in an endgame or anything like that.

Anything else on it?

Q Why is it that when the Secretary of State visits China or visits with the Chinese -- as you and others have stressed to us -- there's never a high-level meeting at which human rights aren't brought up between the Chinese officials and the Americans? Yet, when something like Chechnya continues in Russia, it's put off the table, off the map, in meetings with the Russians. Why the difference?

MR. DAVIES: I don't know that it was put off the table or off the map. It might not have been something that we underscored in our public handling of the President's very brief bilateral meeting with President Yeltsin.

In point of fact, that was a busy few days in Moscow for the President of the United States, the President of Russia, and the other world leaders who were present for that nuclear safety summit.

But human rights are an issue that we raise with the Russians routinely. I can't confirm to you what might have been said about it in Russia. We've raised Chechnya with the Russians before and we'll continue to because, of course, we have concerns about what's occurring there. But I wouldn't draw any great inferences from the fact that you didn't get paragraphs of data about exchanges on human rights between the President of the United States and President Yeltsin. They had a brief meeting, a lot to cover. It was, we believe, a successful meeting.

Q A question on Sister Diana Ortiz. She has been in front of the White House for the last 22 days. She announced today that she's going on a hunger strike because the Freedom of Information Act requests to several agencies for documents on her case have not been fulfilled in the last year or so.

One, your reaction to her announcement; and, two, her lawyers say that this Department has completed its review of her documents and has them in hand but has not released them to her. Could you explain why?

MR. DAVIES: I haven't checked on the Sister Ortiz case in a while, so I'm really not in a position to give you anything that would be useful. We're saddened if she has chosen to embark on a hunger strike.

This building, and those who work here, are very committed to openness where it's possible and to making documents available. I can certainly check that for you and try to find out where that might stand. I don't know that we've necessarily completed a review. I don't know how close we are to turning documents over.

Q On Afghanistan: Has Robin Raphel had any luck ensuring an arms embargo to Afghanistan?

MR. DAVIES: Robin Raphel, who is our Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs, has been travelling in the region. She's been in Afghanistan. She was in Afghanistan April 19-April 20. That was her fourth visit since becoming Assistant Secretary for South Asian matters.

Q Pakistan or Afghanistan?

MR. DAVIES: Afghanistan. She went to Afghanistan. She met with leaders of the various Afghan factions, including the Rabbani regime in Kabul and the Taleban in Khandahar. She had met previously with General Dostam here in Washington. So she did not travel to pay a call on him.

Her message to those she spoke with was to cooperate with the United Nations efforts to bring about a cease-fire and ultimately a political resolution to the conflict. She sought their views on how to go forward on next steps in the peace process, including possibly an arms embargo on Afghanistan, a cease-fire between the combatants; perhaps even an all-party peace conference in Jalalabad, and a regional conference of interested states.

But the bottom line of her mission was to stress to the faction leaders the need to cooperate fully with the United Nations Special Mission in seeking a negotiated solution to the conflict. So I'm not at a stage to announce anything final, if you will, about her efforts there. But she was able to move the ball forward a bit.

Q Is the cease-fire taking hold finally in Liberia?

MR. DAVIES: In Liberia, we still have reports of sporadic gunfire and looting in that very troubled city.

There was a cease-fire announced on Friday, April 19, which doesn't appear to have completely taken hold yet. So much of our effort is working with the ECOMOG leaders and the ECOWAS regional grouping, led by the Ghanians to try to consolidate that cease-fire and get the ECOMOG troops deployed around Monrovia to dampen down the looting that's going on.

I can give you a quick update on our efforts to get Americans and other foreigners out of Monrovia. We have to date lifted out a confirmed total of 1,971 people from Monrovia on 81 helicopter flights. Of those, 349 were American citizens, and 14 of those 349, American Embassy officials.

We are still working to verify the whereabouts of some Americans who have been reported to us as perhaps in Liberia, but we haven't been able to track down their whereabouts yet.

The other development, of course, over the weekend was that the amphibious ready group carrying Marines did arrive. The first elements of that amphibious ready group are now in place in international waters off the coast of Liberia. Some of the Marines on board those vessels have deployed to replace the special forces troops that initially went in to secure the American Embassy compound.

The diplomatic action on the ground remains centered around the efforts led by the Ghanian President's special envoy, Captain Kojo Tshikata, and his delegation. There have been a series of meeting at the American Embassy that have gathered together some of the faction leaders, Mr. Tshikata, and American officials, all meant to try to bring an end to this siege of the Barclay Training Center, which has been the locus of the activity.

But, as I say, despite that announcement of an agreement on Friday, we haven't yet seen complete calm restored yet to the streets of Monrovia. So we will continue to play a role. We've been, for instance, transporting some of the faction leaders from the Barclay Training Center to the American Embassy for meetings.

We also sent some more senior officials to the region. A U.S. diplomatic team has gone out, led by Ambassador Bill Twaddell. With him are officials from the National Security Council, from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and they are working with Ambassador Milam to try to get the ECOWAS effort up to strength and the ECOMOG troops deployed around Monrovia to finally bring an end to this.

The only other development I'd mention is that the DART team that went out -- the Disaster Assistance Relief Team that went out at the end of last week, which is a two-person team, has done some work. It has been to the Greystone compound. It has been to some of the hospitals in other parts of Monrovia, and beginning April 22 that team will begin meetings with representatives of the few non-governmental organizations which are still in Monrovia to coordinate relief efforts.

They've had some success in getting some foodstuffs to those in need and trying to resolve the water situation, which I think of all the shortages or difficulties remains the most severe and is contributing, for instance, to the spread of disease, which is proving to be a big problem.

Q Is anything being done about feeding the people at Greystone?

MR. DAVIES: As of the end of last week, a number of truckloads of food had been brought in. In fact, food I don't think is now a major concern. It's not a great situation, but there appears to be adequate food at Greystone. The problem is water. They dug a well, and they had some water sources, but they were quickly polluted.

Our efforts recently have been to try to get potable water to those people at Greystone, and indeed to hospitals and to other locations that we can reach. But there again the principal responsibility is with the faction leaders who simply have to get a grip on their fighters who are looting and causing the difficulties, and it's been the faction leaders and their people who have been preventing a restoration of these services that are needed out there.

Q How many people are left at Greystone?

MR. DAVIES: The last number I saw was on the order of 15-20,000. I don't know what the most recent count is of people is. Our hope, of course, is that if we can get the situation stabilized. If ECOWAS can do its work, people will then be free to go home, and they won't be subject to looting and intimidation and attacks.

Q Has there been any success in arranging deportation or internment for Roosevelt Johnson?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have anything new on that score. We, of course, saw the reports last week that that might be a solution to the problem if he were allowed to leave the country and allowed to go somewhere. But that hasn't happened yet. I don't know that that's the principal focus of the ECOWAS effort.

I think what they're still trying to do is get the factions to back off sufficiently, get ECOMOG troops around Barclay, and get these young fighters -- many of whom are from outside Monrovia -- to lay down their weapons and stop looting.

That's got to happen, certainly, before any kind of a political or diplomatic settlement can be reached.

Q Has the U.S. position on landmines changed anything? Has it been more supportive of Boutros-Ghali's efforts to eradicate those landmines in general at the convention in Geneva over the weekend?

MR. DAVIES: Nothing new to report there. I mean, the U.S. position on landmines has been evolving a bit. In fact, for a number of years the United States labored in some silence or in a bit of a vacuum, spending a fair amount of money researching the problem of landmines and trying to bring the landmine problem to the attention of the world community.

It's our position that ultimately -- this would be some distance down the road -- it might be possible to ban landmines. As I think those who have been following it know, there's been some evolution in the U.S. position.

What I might be able to do for you is get something on any activity that occurred over the weekend and report that to you.

Anything else? One more.

Q On Liberia, I thought the Nigerians had the largest ECOMOG contingent. What is the U.S. doing to work with them and helping control the situation?

MR. DAVIES: Of course, the accord that was signed in August of last year was signed at Abuja, which is in Nigeria, and Nigeria is the lead nation in ECOWAS, and their troops have been part of ECOMOG, which is the military adjunct to ECOWAS.

Now, for the time being in any event, it's Ghana -- Jerry Rawlings, the President of Ghana, and his envoy on the ground in Monrovia who have the lead, representing ECOWAS, so we're working with them to try to resolve this.

Q Has Nigeria been supplanted for one reason or another?

MR. DAVIES: I don't know. You'd have to put that question to ECOWAS, I suppose. Presumably, they have a spokesperson of some kind who can answer your questions.

Q Does he take daily briefings?

MR. DAVIES: He probably struggles through daily briefings, right. Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:44 p.m.)

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