Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Burma six months on: Children and their families are still in need of international assistance

11 Nov 2008 05:39:48 GMT

(Alert Net) - Cyclone Nargis cut a swath of destruction across Myanmar’s southern coast on 2-3 May 2008.

More than 130,000 people, including tens of thousands of children, died or disappeared, while more than 1 million people lost their homes. In addition, the agriculture and fishing industries in the Irrawaddy Delta were devastated, leaving families with no way to earn an income or feed themselves.

The storm also flooded low-lying areas, contaminating wells, containment ponds and rivers. Salinity of these traditional sources of drinking water remains high. As the dry season begins this month in Myanmar, families will have few options for obtaining clean drinking water, increasing the risk of disease.

“The water shortage that typically comes with the dry season is being exacerbated by the unusually high salt content in water sources in the Delta — a lingering result of the cyclone,” said Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children’s country director in Myanmar. “The lack of clean water will directly impact the health of children. Scarce family resources will be further strained if they must purchase water, as will relationships among communities if they must compete for this resource.”

Source: Save the Children - Australia
Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

88 Generation Activists Given 65 Years

By SAW YAN NAING
The Irrawaddy News
Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Fourteen leading activists, including five women, from the 88 Generation Students group were each given 65-year sentences on Tuesday morning for their political activities during the monk-led uprising in Burma last year, according to sources close to their families.

The lengthy imprisonments were seen as an indication the Burmese military government was invoking harsher punishments on dissidents.

The 14 activists— Min Zeya, Jimmy (aka Kyaw Min Yu), Arnt Bwe Kyaw, Kyaw Kyaw Htwe (aka Ma Kee), Panneik Tun, Zaw Zaw Min, Than Tin, Zeya, Thet Zaw, Mee Mee, Nilar Thein, Mar Mar Oo, Sandar Min and Thet Thet Aung—were sentenced at a court inside Insein Prison, said the sources.

The 88 Generation Students group were seen to be involved in the mass protests against the increased fuel prices enforced by the Burmese government in August 2007.

Meanwhile, a prominent labor rights activist, Su Su Nway, was sentenced to 12 and a half years, said a source who visited Insein Prison on Tuesday.

In late October, nine leaders of the 88 Generation Students group, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Htay Kyew, were sentenced to six months imprisonment under Section 228 of the penal code—for contempt of court—by the Northern District Court inside Insein Prison in the northwestern suburbs of Rangoon.

Military Accused of Crimes Against Humanity

By MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR / IPS WRITER
The Irrawaddy News
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BANGKOK — An onslaught by Burmese troops in the eastern part of the military-ruled country, running for three years now, is laying the junta open to charge of ‘crimes against humanity’.

This new charge adds to a growing list of human rights violations that the Southeast Asian nation’s ruling military regime is being slammed for, including the use of rape as a weapon of war in military campaigns in areas that are home to the country’s ethnic minorities. The country has been under the grip of successive juntas since a 1962 military coup.

Eyewitness accounts from civilians fleeing the territory under attack reveal a grim picture of the ‘Tatmadaw’, as the Burmese military is called, targeting unarmed men, women and children in a "widespread and systematic way," say human rights and humanitarian groups.

An increasing number of refugees have been crossing over to northern Thailand from among the Karen ethnic community, the second largest ethnic group in Burma, or Myanmar. Many of them live in the mountainous Karen State, the territory where Southeast Asia’s longest—and largely ignored—separatist conflict is being waged between Burmese troops and the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

"Myanmar’s troops are overtly targeting civilians; they are actively avoiding KNU military installations. That is why we are describing the attacks as ‘crimes against humanity’," says Benjamin Zawacki, Southeast Asia researcher for Amnesty International (AI), the global rights lobby. "The violations are widespread and systematic."

"This campaign started in November 2005 and has escalated. They did not even stop during the annual monsoon period (from May to October), which was not the case before," he explained during an IPS interview. "There has been a shift in strategy and intensity. It is no more a dry season offensive."

The military campaign is the largest and the longest sustained drive in a decade. "The Burmese army is rotating soldiers every six months and they have penetrated areas deep in the Karen area," David Tharckabaw, vice president of the KNU, said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location. "Nothing is being spared. They are even destroying fruit plantations like mangosteen."

The list of abuse document by AI, and corroborated by other humanitarian groups, include villagers being beaten and stabbed to death, being shot by the ‘Tatmadaw’ "without any warning" and being tortured and subsequently killed. Karen civilians have also reportedly been subjected to forced labour, disappearances and their rice harvest being burned down.

"Before the soldiers left the village, they planted landmines, one of them in front of the church. An old man, maybe 70 years-old, stepped on a landmine and was killed," a female rice farmer told an AI researcher of an incident in early 2006, when the ‘Tatmadaw’ burned 20 of the 30 houses in her village.

"I lost everything—kitchen, furniture, rice stocks—not a single piece of paper was left," she added. "The same happened to the other 19 families whose houses were burned."

The unrelenting campaign, which has included the Burmese infantry and heavy use of 120 mm and 81mm mortar shells, has shrunk an already limited space for Karen civilians and internally displaced people (IDPs) to escape to. "The more the Burmese military occupies areas in a worsening situation, the less space there is for civilians to escape to," says Duncan McArthur, emergency relief coordinator of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an alliance of 11 humanitarian groups helping refugees from Burma along the Thai-Burmese border.

"Nearly 66,000 people from 38 townships have been forced to flee their homes due to the armed conflict and human rights abuses," he told IPS. "They had to because the violations are being committed in a climate of impunity."

Some of the victims have poured into north-west Thailand, where there are already nine camps that house 120,000 refugees who fled intense phases of the conflict going back over a decade. "There are about 20,000 unregistered new arrivals and the natural growth in the camps," added McArthur. "There is no avenue for redress if they were to stay back."

That is reflected in Burma’s over half a million IDPs, nearly 451,000 of which live in the rural ethnic areas, according to TBBC. It places Burma in the same league as countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which have internally displaced running into the hundreds of thousands.

But what sets Burma apart is the lack of any international agencies to help the victims and serve as neutral observers in the conflict zone.

Even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was helping to provide artificial limbs for landmine victims, was hampered by new restrictions to its operations in 2006. In mid-2007, the Geneva-based humanitarian agency broke its famed silence in an unprecedented attack on the junta to explain why it had to end its operations in Burma, including the Karen areas.

The ICRC’s denunciation of major and repeated violations in the conflict zones in eastern Burma confirmed what many analysts had said of a region that is cut away from international scrutiny and media exposure. "The repeated abuses committed against men, women and children living along the Thai-Myanmar border violate many provisions of international humanitarian law," the organization said.

The Karens, who account for nearly seven million of Burma’s 57 million people, have their own distinctive culture and language and have Buddhists, Christians and animists among them. The Burmans, who are the majority, are predominantly Buddhist by faith, speak Burmese, and have a culture and history shaped by kings before being subjugated by British colonization.

The Karen fight for independence began in 1949, a year after Burma got independence. And the KNU has refused to sign peace deals with the Burmese regime unlike some of the other separatist rebels from ethnic groups. The latter settled for ceasefire deals over the past two decades, only to learn, subsequently, that the junta’s promises of more political autonomy were hollow.

"The Burmese military’s latest strategy is to keep attacking the KNU and Karen civilians in order to drive them to the Thai-Burma border," says Tharekabaw, of the KNU. "Their goal is to control all the land and all the people, which has never been the case before."

"If they cannot control, they have to kill the people or to wipe them out," he added. "The regime is a fascist regime. Their ideology is extremism, racism and militarism."

Quote on Justice

“Ah-dhhamma (injustice) is winning now,
but one day dhamma (justice) will win.”

--Aung Thein, Defence for Ashin Gambira

Court sentenced blogger for over 20 years, poet for two years - Nay Phone Latt


by Than Htike Oo
Mizzima News
Monday, 10 November 2008 23:37


Chiang Mai – A court in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison on Monday has sentenced a popular Blogger Nay Phone Latt to over 20 years in prison.

Nay Phone Latt, who was arrested on 29 January, on Monday was sentenced by the Insein prison court on three counts including charges under section 505 (b) of the Penal Code - crime against public tranquillity.

The Blogger's mother Aye Aye Than, told Mizzima that her son was sentenced to two years under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, three and half years under sections 32(b)/36 of the Video Law and 15 years under section 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Law.

"We were waiting outside during the court proceedings and after the court session we asked the judge about the quantum of punishment. The judge and prosecutor informed us regarding the judgement," she said.

The 28-years-old, Nay Phone Latt, a famous blogger, is also a youth member of Burma's main opposition party - National League for Democracy. He runs internet caf├ęs in several townships in Rangoon including "The Explorer" in Pabedan Township, and "Heaven" in Thingangyun Township.

His mother Aye Aye Than said that she had no idea why they had sentenced her son to such a long term in prison.
(JEG's: someone ought to tell her...)

"He is the first ever blogger to be arrested in Burma. I have no idea why they punished my son with such a harsh judgement. Blogging is perhaps a very serious crime in the opinion of the authorities," his mother said.

Meanwhile, Nay Phone Latt's defense counsel, Aung Thein, was also sentenced to four months prison-term in absentia on November 7, for a charge of contempt of the court.

Similarly, poet Saw Wei was also sentenced to two years in prison on Monday with charges of 'inducing crime against public tranquillity'.

He was arrested in February, after his poem entitled 'February 14' was published in the Weekly 'Ah Chit' (love) Journal. In his Burmese poem, putting together of the first words of all the lines spells out 'Power Crazy Snr. Gen.Than Shwe', which provokes the authorities and he was immediately arrested.

"I am worried about his health. I want to arrange proper medical treatment outside the prison for him, where X-ray facility would be available in order to diagnose his back and waist pain. Currently, he cannot get these treatments inside the prison. He has to cover his body with a towel all the time. This morning too at the court, he could not sit for a long time and had to stand up frequently to ease his pain when speaking," Saw Wai's wife told Mizzima.

Soe Maung, the defense counsel of Saw Wai said, despite of the court's verdict, he will continue filing appeals for revision, as he thinks the trial were not free and fair enough.

"We will file an appeal against this judgment at all levels of the courts including an appeal for a revision case. We intend to do as much as the law and judicial proceedings permit us to, within the legal framework, until we reach the last stage. I am preparing for an appeal on my client's instruction," Soe Maung said.

Meanwhile, media watchdogs the Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) and Burma Media Association (BMA) has slam the junta for its unfair trials on the two writers – Nay Phone Latt and Saw Wai – and the verdict to sentenced them.

The two organisations said, they are appalled by the combined sentence of 20 years and six months in prison that a special court in Insein prison passed on Nay Phone Latt and two years to poet Saw Wai.

"This shocking sentence is meant to terrify those who go online in an attempt to elude the dictatorship's ubiquitous control of news and information, and we call for his immediate release. Saw Wai, for his part, is being made to pay for his impertinence and courage as a committed poet," the two organisations said in a press statement.

The two media watchdogs also call on all bloggers and poets around the world to show their solidarity towards Nay Phone Latt and Saw Wai.

"There is an urgent need now for bloggers all over the world to demonstrate their solidarity with Nay Phone Latt by posing his photo on their blogs and by writing to Burmese embassies worldwide to request his release. Similarly, we call on poets to defend their fellow-poet, Saw Wai, who has been jailed just because of one poem," said the two organisations.

---And---

Young Burmese Blogger Sentenced to more than 20 Years in Jail
By SAW YAN NAING
The Irrawaddy News

A young Burmese blogger who was a major source of information for the outside world on the brutal regime crackdown on the September 2007 uprising was sentenced to 20 years and six months imprisonment on Monday.

Nay Phone Latt, 28, was sentenced by a court in Rangoon’s Insein Prison, according to his mother, Aye Than. He was convicted of contravening Public Offense Act 505 B by posting a cartoon depicting junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe on his blog site.

Nay Phone Latt’s colleague Thin July Kyaw was sentenced to two years imprisonment, Aye Than reported.

Another dissident who ridiculed the regime, Saw Wai, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for publishing a poem mocking Than Shwe in the weekly Love Journal, according to Rangoon sources. The first words of each line of the Burmese language poem spelled out the message “Senior General Than Shwe is foolish with power.”

Nay Phone Latt’s blogs during the September 2007 uprising provided invaluable information about events within the locked-down country.

Two Rangoon journalists, Htun Htun Thein and Khin Maung Aye, of the privately-owned weekly News Watch, were arrested on November 5 and are being detained in Insein Prison. The media rights organizations Reporters without Borders and Burma Media Association have demanded their immediate release.

The current regime crackdown is also aimed at silencing legal attempts to ensure fair trials for dissidents now appearing before judges in closed court sessions.

Two weeks ago, three defense lawyers, Nyi Nyi Htwe, Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein were imprisoned for between four and six months for contempt of court after complaining of unfair treatment.

Four other defense lawyers, Kyaw Hoe, Maung Maung Latt, Myint Thaung and Khin Htay Kyew have been barred from representing their clients since November 5, according to Kyaw Hoe. The lawyers are representing several dissidents, including members of the 88 Generation Students group.

“I asked a prison authority why I was not allowed to appear in court,” said Kyaw Hoe. “He said there was no reason and that the order had come from higher officials.”

Members of the 88 Generation Students group were now appearing daily in court without their defense lawyers, Kyaw Hoe said.

Two lawyers, Myint Thaung and Khin Htay Kyi, who represent the prominent labor activist Su Su Nway, withdrew from court proceedings at the weekend, citing unfair treatment, according to the accused’s sister, Htay Htay Kyi.

Htay Htay Kyi said Su Su Nway would be sentenced on Tuesday. The winner of the 2006 John Humphrey Freedom Award was originally charged with “threatening the stability of the government,” under articles 124, 130 and 505 of the penal code, but new charges have now been added.

In a statement in Washington, the US State Department criticized the imprisonment of the four defense lawyers and urged the Burmese regime to drop all charges and release them.

Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood called on the junta to stop harassing and arresting citizens for peacefully practicing their internationally recognized human rights, to release all political prisoners, and to start a genuine dialogue with democratic forces and ethnic minority groups for democratic reform in Burma.
Monday, November 10, 2008

Burma Resolution Introduced in the UN

By LALIT K. JHA / UNITED NATIONS
The Irrawaddy News
Monday, November 10, 2008


Forty-three nations voted to send a resolution highly critical of the Burmese government to the UN General Assembly for a vote, probably in December.

Among the countries sponsoring the resolution were Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, South Korea, Britain and the US.

The resolution, which will be debated in committee before it is taken up in the general assembly, urged the governing junta to ensure full respect for human rights and to take steps for the restoration of democracy through a free and fair election.

In addition, it called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who has been under house arrest for the past 13 years, and urged the release of all political prisoners, including leaders from the National League for Democracy, 88 Generation Students and ethnic groups.

The resolution called on the junta to fully implement previous recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on Burma, the General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, Commission on Human Rights and the International Labor Organization.

The resolution also called for the Burmese government to lift all restraints on peaceful political activities and to ensure unhindered access to media information.

Expressing its support for the good offices role of the UN secretary-general and his special envoy on Burma, the resolution urged the resumption of a dialogue with political opposition groups, including the National League for Democracy and representatives of ethnic nationalities. It also urged that arrest of political opposition group members be halted immediately.

Friday, 7 November 2008

More Burmese Defense Lawyers Jailed for ‘Contempt of Court’

By SAW YAN NAING
The Irrawaddy News
Friday, November 7, 2008

Two lawyers representing detained Burmese political activists were sentenced to four months imprisonment for contempt of court on Friday.

One of the two, Aung Thein, told The Irrawaddy he and Khin Maung Shein had been charged after attempting to defend their clients in court.

The two lawyers had earlier withdrawn from court proceedings, complaining that they were being hampered in their defense work.

Aung Thein said the authorities were prejudiced against lawyers defending political activists. Aung Thein represented the prominent Buddhist monk Ashin Gambira, but resigned his brief on October 1, complaining that he was not being allowed to prepare a proper defense.

Gambira was one of the leaders of the demonstrations in September 2007 and is charged with offences connected with his participation in the mass protests.

Aung Thein said justice would win in the end—and quoted Buddhist teaching.
“Ah-dhhamma (injustice) is winning now, but one day dhamma (justice) will win.”

His colleague, Khin Maung Shein, also recently resigned his brief after the court refused to allow him to ask questions on behalf of his clients.

In late October, another defense lawyer, Nyi Nyi Htwe, who represented 11 youth members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was sentenced to six months imprisonment for disrespect of the court.

Nyi Nyi Htwe and Nyi Nyi Hlaing are among 13 lawyers defending detained political activists, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

Nine leading activists, including Min Ko Naing and other prominent members of the 88 Generation Students movement, were sentenced in late October to six months imprisonment for contempt of court.

The Burma Lawyers’ Council in exile released a statement on Friday lamenting the lack of free and fair trials in Burma and complaining that lawyers representing political clients lose their right to freely defend their clients in court.

A court in Insein Prison increased the list of charges against the prominent Burmese labor activist Su Su Nway on Friday, according to her sister, Htay Htay Kyi.

Su Su Nway, winner of the 2006 John Humphrey Freedom Award for her labor rights work, took part in last year’s demonstrations and was charged with “threatening the stability of the government,” under articles 124, 130 and 505 of the penal code. Six new charges had now been added, Htay Htay Kyi said.

In other developments, appeals by six NLD members, including well-known pro-democracy activist Win Mya Mya, against long prison sentences, have been rejected.

Burmese authorities are also apparently ignoring an appeal by NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi against her continuing house arrest. The appeal was lodged in Naypyidaw on October 8, according to her lawyer, Kyi Win, who is still being kept waiting for a response.

Suu Kyi was visited by her doctor at her Rangoon home on Thursday, in accordance with an agreement with the authorities.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Junta sends prisoners in short-term sentences to Hard Labour camps

Written by KNG
Saturday, 01 November 2008


Burma's ruling military junta has been sending prisoners serving less than a year's prison term in a prison at Myitkyina, the capital of Burma's northern Kachin State to Hard Labour camps in lower Burma, according to local sources.

Prisoners serving prison terms between six months to five years in Zilon Prison have been selected and sent to the Htonbo Hard Labour camp in the south of Mandalay and the Hard Labour camps in the war zone in Karen State, sources close to the prisoners said.

The sources added that the prison authorities mainly selected young male prisoners for Hard Labour and if the prisoners wanted to be excluded from the list of Hard Labour candidates then their families or relatives would have to pay a bribe between 250,000 Kyat (US $105) to 300,000 Kyat (US $246) per prisoner to the prison authorities within a given time.

The main reasons for sending prisoners serving short-term prison sentences are that the prisons are becoming more and more crowded with the death toll of prisoners dying from Tuberculosis (TB) and AIDS increasing day by day, according to the prison.

Currently, both the diseases have not spread among too many prisoners however, policemen guarding the prisons are also falling victim to the diseases, the prison authorities said.

In Zilon Prison, there are prison cells to accommodate about 700 male prisoners and 500 female prisoners. However, there are now about 1,300 male prisoners and about 500 female prisoners in the prison. About twenty prisoners have to stay in a prison cell and most of the prisoners are the cases related to drug addicts and smugglers, according to the prisoners.

Of them, most prisoners are ethnic Kachins because they do not have enough money to bribe the policemen for avoiding imprisonment, the Kachin community sources in Myitkyina said.

Earlier, the junta used to send prisoners with more than five years prison terms in Zilon Prison, to the Hard Labour camps around the country and also as porters in the wars between Burma's army and the Karen National Union (KNU) on the Thailand-Burma border in the Southeast of the country, added local sources.

According to prisoners in Zilon Prison, if the prisoners are sent to the junta's Hard Labour camps, most of them have high chances of dying of torture and malnutrition.

Comparison of BSPP's and SPDC's Political Manipulation

Wed 29 Oct 2008 (Mon News) - The Burmese Army took power not during the bloodshed of 1988, but through a coup in 1962. The military has ruled the country under many different names. The commanders of Burma’s Army have noticed how delicious power tastes, and do not want the make way for democratic governance. They continuously manipulate the situation in Burma to maintain power. They will again during the election of 2010.

Under the name “Revolutionary Council,” General Ne Win ruled the country from 1962 to 1974. He ruled without any constitution, like the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) – and subsequent State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – ruled from 1988 to 2008, and maybe will past 2010.

Ne Win imprisoned hundreds of democratic and ethnic leaders, including former Prime Minister U Nu and Mon leaders Nai Aung Tun. Similarly, SLORC's Gen. Saw Maung and Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt arrested many activists – student leaders, NLD members and 1990 MPs – and imprisoned them for many years. SPDC's Sr. Gen. Than Shwe has been more aggressive and notorious. He ordered the imprisonment of almost all of ‘88 Generation Student leaders and killed unarmed monks and civilians during the 2007 September's Saffron Revolution.

Ruling the country without a legitimate constitution is lawlessness. And it is illegitimate in the eyes of international and diplomatic communities. Ne Win and his military men drafted a socialist constitution in 1974 and called for a sham “People’s Referendum.” Unsurprisingly, 99% of the people were said to support the one-party rule Socialist Constitution. Burmese Army's commanders took off their uniform, and took over politics through one-party elections and seats in the parliament and cabinet.

History is repeating itself. The SPDC's Sr. Gen. Than Shwe held a sham “National Convention” to draft a sham constitution. The product guarantees the military controls 25% of seats in parliament. After the 2010 Elections, the military will rule without taking off a uniform.

If compared with these situation, the current regime more openly expresses that they love the taste of power and will continue military rule of the country as long as possible. As prominent Journalist U Win Tin said, “all of us will die in this roadmap.” This roadmap cleared the way for military rule and it is the genuine political will of this regime. Therefore, there will be no liberal or participatory democracy in Burma.

The Faltering Asean Way

By MICHAEL VATIKIOTIS
The Irrawaddy News


It is ironic that just as the much-heralded Asean Charter received its final approval through ratification by Indonesia, two Asean member states faced off across a disputed patch of land and started shooting at each other. It was an inauspicious start to what the Charter's preamble refers to as 'a region of lasting peace, security and stability...'

The Thai-Cambodian border is not the only fault line that threatens peace in South-east Asia. In recent weeks, Malaysia has rattled Indonesian nerves with the threatened exploitation of disputed waters off the island of Borneo. The reaction in Jakarta? Instead of requesting the good offices of the Asean Secretary-General to mediate as envisaged in the Charter, security agencies hurriedly planned a military exercise to practice confrontation with the Malaysian navy.

Southeast Asian nations have lived in relative peace and harmony for the past half-century. But they have been reluctant up till now to formalize the mechanism by which peace is maintained. Asean member states have displayed an allergy to formal security cooperation. They have preferred instead to use informal channels and personal connections to resolve disputes.

This was a fine arrangement when Southeast Asia was a more clubbable place, its leaders more or less on the same political plane, sharing the same demons (communist insurgency and uppity peasantry). But today, Southeast Asia has become a patchwork of rather different political landscapes.

In Indonesia, a vibrant democracy has injected nationalist stridency to the country's diplomacy. In Thailand, bitter domestic political conflict is doing the same as one side seeks to undermine the other by questioning its nationalist credentials. In the Philippines, the legislature holds the threat of impeachment over the President's head and makes it hard for the country's chief executive to follow a consistent foreign policy agenda.

Pluralism, therefore, is making it hard for Asean officials to knit together the much-vaunted regional consensus. Now more than ever, Asean needs to build a framework for dispute resolution that will allow the collective security of the region to trump domestic politics and nationalist breast-beating. The Asean Charter lays a good foundation for doing so.

But despite the Charter's ratification, there are few signs this is happening. The other day when Thai and Cambodian troops started trading fire, Asean officials were at a loss to know how to intervene. Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan asked regional leaders like Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to appeal for restraint, which he did. Foreign ministers from Indonesia and Malaysia fell over themselves to offer mediation, but no invitation came from either of the parties. The current Asean chairman, Thailand, is a party to the dispute.

Eventually, calm was restored when it emerged that the Thai and Cambodian leaders would meet on the fringes of an Asia-Europe meeting in Beijing, which they did. That is hardly an endorsement of Asean's ability to resolve disputes.

At the heart of the problem is the reluctance of Asean member states to yield an inch of sovereignty in the interests of collective security. The past few months have seen a number of attempts to gently push the boundaries of acceptable intervention, but it has not been easy.

Witness how easily domestic politics derailed a Malaysian-brokered deal between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao. Often, when regional mediation does get under way, jealous or competitive neighbors seek to sabotage or hamper these efforts. Not only has Bangkok been reluctant to embrace Jakarta's good offices as a mediator in the southern Thailand conflict, but also Malaysia appears to be unhappy to see Jakarta involved in a dispute along its border with Thailand.

Ever since the high-profile resolution of the long-running conflict in Aceh on the back of the devastating December 2004 tsunami, many in the region saw the so-called 'Aceh model' as a path to peacemaking easily replicated elsewhere, which is not necessarily the case.

Without a more formal mechanism to channel and regulate conflict management, with the implicit role of third-party intervention, Asean's efforts to forge a region of peace and security will fall on stony ground. There is something of a built-in contradiction between bedrock principles in the Asean Charter: on the one hand, it stresses respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; and on the other, a 'shared commitment and collective responsibility' for peace and security. Put another way: How can Asean ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes when the Charter insists on non-interference in the internal affairs of member states?

This contradiction needs resolving.

When neighbours cannot settle quarrels between themselves, outsiders should be called on to do so. The irony of not allowing more space for regional mediation is that it leaves the door open for larger powers—like China in the case of the current Thai-Cambodian dispute—to act as the mediator.


The writer is Asia Regional Director for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and this article recently appeared on Jakarta Post.