Showing posts tagged as "South East Asia"

Showing posts tagged South East Asia

13 Jan
Thailand: Conflict Alert
Bangkok/Brussels  |   13 Jan 2014
The campaign by anti-government protesters to derail the 2 February election raises prospects of widespread political violence, and scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing. Protests may aim to provoke a military coup, or encourage a judicial coup. If protesters succeed in their bid to delay the poll and replace the elected caretaker government with an appointed council, others who demand to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed franchise are likely to resist. Competing Thai elites – with mass backing – disagree fundamentally about how political power should be acquired and exercised. The election, and the opposition to it, crystallises the dilemma in reaching a new consensus on Thailand’s political order: will government be legitimised by voters or by traditional institutions such as the monarchy and the military? 
Since 2005, political and structural tensions have animated a conflict centred on self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who won enduring support from majorities in the north and north east newly conscious of their electoral power. Thaksin challenged institutions that draw legitimacy from traditional sources of authority, including the military, judiciary, palace network elements and watchdog bodies collectively known as “independent agencies”. Beginning with a 2006 military coup, and in concert with the Democrat Party, which draws most of its support from the south and Bangkok, these institutions have tried and failed to eliminate Thaksin’s influence.
Anti-government protesters have staged mostly-peaceful rallies in Bangkok for two months, but also occupied government buildings, attacked pro-government Red Shirt activists, disrupted election registration and occasionally clashed with police. Gunmen have targeted protest sites. At least eight people have been killed and more than 450 injured in protest-related violence.
There is no clear way out. But there are ways to render a bad situation potentially catastrophic. Denying the chance to vote is one. So is the propensity of some leaders to achieve by mass action – often violent – what they cannot by popular mandate or negotiation. As much as elections, Thailand needs leadership to generate the truly inclusive national dialogue required to set it on a stable path.
As anti-government protesters intensify actions, the risk of violence across wide swathes of the country is growing and significant. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters, led by former Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban, are determined to unseat the caretaker government of Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They also aim to derail the election they fear will reinstall Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party. Thaksin-aligned parties have won every poll since 2001, a record that has eroded his enemies’ faith in elections. The PDRC considers Thaksin uniquely corrupt and malevolent. It attributes his electoral success to vote fraud and the susceptibility of poorer, less educated citizens to unethical, unsustainable populist policies. 
The PDRC insists that extraordinary measures, including suspension of electoral democracy, are required to “uproot the Thaksin regime”. Citing ambiguous constitutional provisions to justify ousting the elected government, the PDRC proposes to eradicate “Thaksinism” via an unelected People’s Council – 100 “good people” whom it would appoint and 300 others chosen as functional representatives – to govern for up to eighteen months and implement reforms. The reform agenda is only broadly outlined and includes decentralisation, elected governors, stronger anti-corruption laws and police reform. 
After Pheu Thai’s 2011 election victory, Yingluck cultivated relations with Thaksin’s opponents in the senior ranks of the military and Privy Council. Small anti-government protests lacked traction until October, when parliament passed an ill-judged blanket amnesty that would have erased Thaksin’s 2008 abuse-of-power conviction. It would also have absolved ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy, Suthep, for ordering the 2010 military crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok that killed more than 90, as well as army officers who implemented the order. The bill galvanised Thaksin’s opponents and sparked sustained protests that attracted growing numbers of middle-class Bangkokians. Faced with overwhelming opposition, including from Red Shirt allies, the government withdrew support.
Even before the Senate rejected the bill on 11 November, protest leaders shifted their goal to ousting the government. Several Democrats, including Suthep, resigned from the party to lead the street protests. After Democrat Party MPs resigned en masse, Yingluck dissolved parliament on 9 December, and the government acquired caretaker status. As demanded by the constitution, the February election was scheduled and endorsed by royal decree. The Democrat Party resolved to boycott the election, as it did in 2006, and support the protests. 
The PDRC plans to paralyse Bangkok to eject the government and force cancellation of the election. There is immediate risk of violence designed to instigate a coup. The army chief, General Prayudh Chan-ocha, has not ruled out the possibility. The army has mounted eighteen successful and attempted coups since 1932 and suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations with lethal force in 1973, 1992 and 2010. It has never intervened on behalf of a Thaksin-aligned government. 
There are other potential triggers for unrest. If the election is delayed without government consent or results are nullified, many who saw their representatives expelled from office in 2006 and 2008 too, may see no recourse other than violent resistance. The combination of street protests and judicial intervention to unseat elected government is familiar; in 2008, the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied Government House for months and closed Bangkok’s airports before the Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party, a Pheu Thai predecessor. Many perceive the Constitutional Court as biased, and the “independent agencies” – mandated by the 2006 coup makers’ 2007 constitution – as compromised because their members were appointed by committees dominated by judges and officials not themselves democratically accountable. 
The election faces multiple pitfalls. The Democrat Party decision to boycott might provide a pretext to challenge the poll’s legitimacy. The Election Commission appears reluctant to perform its duties and has called for the election to be postponed. Protesters prevented candidates from registering in 28 constituencies in the Democrat Party’s southern stronghold. The Election Commission should take remedial action, but this is uncertain. On 7 January, the National Anti-Corruption Commission pressed misconduct charges against 308 mostly Pheu Thai lawmakers who supported an amendment to create an all-elected senate. Many are candidates and could be disqualified if impeached by the Senate. If less than 95 per cent of the 500 seats are filled on 2 February, by-elections will be required before the new parliament can meet. 
The détente of the last few years masked fundamental, unresolved tensions. Today’s crisis has greater scope for serious, protracted violence than earlier episodes not least because there is neither evident middle ground nor protester appetite for compromise. 
A deal to postpone the election could buy time for negotiation but would be only a stopgap without a comprehensive, broadly accepted agreement on the future political order. Thailand is deeply polarised, and the prospects for such an agreement are dim. Still, a counsel of despair is not an option. All need to understand that violence will not advance more responsive and transparent government. An election alone will also not resolve basic disagreements about how political power should be acquired and exercised, but the following should be borne in mind as a way out of the impasse is sought:
there is no obvious route to a peaceful resolution that does not respect the voice of a majority of voters. Imposition of an appointed government without consent of the electorate would invite violence;
the Democrat Party should recommit to the electoral process;
all should commit to pursuing political change non-violently and with due regard for others’ rights; 
the military could best respond to the current crisis by an unequivocal commitment to the democratic process and express support for dialogue between the opposing camps; and
Thailand needs to confront how it is governed, including the decentralisation question and reform of key state institutions, but these issues should be discussed nationally – not presented as the agenda of one side – and take place in parallel to and beyond, not in place of, the constitutionally-required electoral process.
If the sides can agree on the need to avoid violence and for a national dialogue built on a shared agenda, a solution might just possibly be found. It is a slim reed on which to float hopes, but in Bangkok there is little else available.
Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias

Thailand: Conflict Alert

Bangkok/Brussels  |   13 Jan 2014

The campaign by anti-government protesters to derail the 2 February election raises prospects of widespread political violence, and scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing. Protests may aim to provoke a military coup, or encourage a judicial coup. If protesters succeed in their bid to delay the poll and replace the elected caretaker government with an appointed council, others who demand to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed franchise are likely to resist. Competing Thai elites – with mass backing – disagree fundamentally about how political power should be acquired and exercised. The election, and the opposition to it, crystallises the dilemma in reaching a new consensus on Thailand’s political order: will government be legitimised by voters or by traditional institutions such as the monarchy and the military? 

Since 2005, political and structural tensions have animated a conflict centred on self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who won enduring support from majorities in the north and north east newly conscious of their electoral power. Thaksin challenged institutions that draw legitimacy from traditional sources of authority, including the military, judiciary, palace network elements and watchdog bodies collectively known as “independent agencies”. Beginning with a 2006 military coup, and in concert with the Democrat Party, which draws most of its support from the south and Bangkok, these institutions have tried and failed to eliminate Thaksin’s influence.

Anti-government protesters have staged mostly-peaceful rallies in Bangkok for two months, but also occupied government buildings, attacked pro-government Red Shirt activists, disrupted election registration and occasionally clashed with police. Gunmen have targeted protest sites. At least eight people have been killed and more than 450 injured in protest-related violence.

There is no clear way out. But there are ways to render a bad situation potentially catastrophic. Denying the chance to vote is one. So is the propensity of some leaders to achieve by mass action – often violent – what they cannot by popular mandate or negotiation. As much as elections, Thailand needs leadership to generate the truly inclusive national dialogue required to set it on a stable path.

As anti-government protesters intensify actions, the risk of violence across wide swathes of the country is growing and significant. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters, led by former Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban, are determined to unseat the caretaker government of Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They also aim to derail the election they fear will reinstall Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party. Thaksin-aligned parties have won every poll since 2001, a record that has eroded his enemies’ faith in elections. The PDRC considers Thaksin uniquely corrupt and malevolent. It attributes his electoral success to vote fraud and the susceptibility of poorer, less educated citizens to unethical, unsustainable populist policies. 

The PDRC insists that extraordinary measures, including suspension of electoral democracy, are required to “uproot the Thaksin regime”. Citing ambiguous constitutional provisions to justify ousting the elected government, the PDRC proposes to eradicate “Thaksinism” via an unelected People’s Council – 100 “good people” whom it would appoint and 300 others chosen as functional representatives – to govern for up to eighteen months and implement reforms. The reform agenda is only broadly outlined and includes decentralisation, elected governors, stronger anti-corruption laws and police reform. 

After Pheu Thai’s 2011 election victory, Yingluck cultivated relations with Thaksin’s opponents in the senior ranks of the military and Privy Council. Small anti-government protests lacked traction until October, when parliament passed an ill-judged blanket amnesty that would have erased Thaksin’s 2008 abuse-of-power conviction. It would also have absolved ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy, Suthep, for ordering the 2010 military crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok that killed more than 90, as well as army officers who implemented the order. The bill galvanised Thaksin’s opponents and sparked sustained protests that attracted growing numbers of middle-class Bangkokians. Faced with overwhelming opposition, including from Red Shirt allies, the government withdrew support.

Even before the Senate rejected the bill on 11 November, protest leaders shifted their goal to ousting the government. Several Democrats, including Suthep, resigned from the party to lead the street protests. After Democrat Party MPs resigned en masse, Yingluck dissolved parliament on 9 December, and the government acquired caretaker status. As demanded by the constitution, the February election was scheduled and endorsed by royal decree. The Democrat Party resolved to boycott the election, as it did in 2006, and support the protests. 

The PDRC plans to paralyse Bangkok to eject the government and force cancellation of the election. There is immediate risk of violence designed to instigate a coup. The army chief, General Prayudh Chan-ocha, has not ruled out the possibility. The army has mounted eighteen successful and attempted coups since 1932 and suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations with lethal force in 1973, 1992 and 2010. It has never intervened on behalf of a Thaksin-aligned government. 

There are other potential triggers for unrest. If the election is delayed without government consent or results are nullified, many who saw their representatives expelled from office in 2006 and 2008 too, may see no recourse other than violent resistance. The combination of street protests and judicial intervention to unseat elected government is familiar; in 2008, the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied Government House for months and closed Bangkok’s airports before the Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party, a Pheu Thai predecessor. Many perceive the Constitutional Court as biased, and the “independent agencies” – mandated by the 2006 coup makers’ 2007 constitution – as compromised because their members were appointed by committees dominated by judges and officials not themselves democratically accountable. 

The election faces multiple pitfalls. The Democrat Party decision to boycott might provide a pretext to challenge the poll’s legitimacy. The Election Commission appears reluctant to perform its duties and has called for the election to be postponed. Protesters prevented candidates from registering in 28 constituencies in the Democrat Party’s southern stronghold. The Election Commission should take remedial action, but this is uncertain. On 7 January, the National Anti-Corruption Commission pressed misconduct charges against 308 mostly Pheu Thai lawmakers who supported an amendment to create an all-elected senate. Many are candidates and could be disqualified if impeached by the Senate. If less than 95 per cent of the 500 seats are filled on 2 February, by-elections will be required before the new parliament can meet. 

The détente of the last few years masked fundamental, unresolved tensions. Today’s crisis has greater scope for serious, protracted violence than earlier episodes not least because there is neither evident middle ground nor protester appetite for compromise. 

A deal to postpone the election could buy time for negotiation but would be only a stopgap without a comprehensive, broadly accepted agreement on the future political order. Thailand is deeply polarised, and the prospects for such an agreement are dim. Still, a counsel of despair is not an option. All need to understand that violence will not advance more responsive and transparent government. An election alone will also not resolve basic disagreements about how political power should be acquired and exercised, but the following should be borne in mind as a way out of the impasse is sought:

there is no obvious route to a peaceful resolution that does not respect the voice of a majority of voters. Imposition of an appointed government without consent of the electorate would invite violence;

the Democrat Party should recommit to the electoral process;

all should commit to pursuing political change non-violently and with due regard for others’ rights; 

the military could best respond to the current crisis by an unequivocal commitment to the democratic process and express support for dialogue between the opposing camps; and

Thailand needs to confront how it is governed, including the decentralisation question and reform of key state institutions, but these issues should be discussed nationally – not presented as the agenda of one side – and take place in parallel to and beyond, not in place of, the constitutionally-required electoral process.

If the sides can agree on the need to avoid violence and for a national dialogue built on a shared agenda, a solution might just possibly be found. It is a slim reed on which to float hopes, but in Bangkok there is little else available.

Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias

3 Jul
Analysis: Myanmar’s Rakhine State - where aid can have harmful effects|  Dana MacLean
The aid community should proceed carefully to avoid enflaming sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State more than a year after the first wave of inter-communal violence.
FULL ARTICLE (IRIN)
Photo: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection/Flickr

Analysis: Myanmar’s Rakhine State - where aid can have harmful effects|  Dana MacLean

The aid community should proceed carefully to avoid enflaming sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State more than a year after the first wave of inter-communal violence.

FULL ARTICLE (IRIN)

Photo: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection/Flickr

14 Dec
“Trickery” and the rule of law in Timor-Leste 
from Crisis Group’s blog, Resolving Conflict in South East Asia 
By Cillian Nolan
The UN peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) is now in the final stages of its long-planned withdrawal. By the end of December, the only staff left will be packing up computers and dismantling the portable containers at its “Obrigado Barracks” headquarters. Following largely peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year, Timorese are in confident spirits about the many challenges ahead. But after thirteen years of UN presence in the country, it is natural that there is some apprehension among some about security after the end of peace operations.
The Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) coalition government in office from 2007-12 never found in the UN a fitting partner for reform. It saw more value in devising and implementing its own solutions. This was most notable in its response to the displacement that followed the 2006 crisis. While the UN favoured a phased, sustainable, decade-long approach to returning tens of thousands in IDP camps, the government instead handed out up to $4500 to households and closed the camps in two years. When then  President José Ramos-Horta was shot in February 2008, UNMIT’s response was criticised as slow and clumsy. The government quickly set up a joint army-police command to handle security, just as UNMIT was supposed to be articulating clearer divisions between the two forces. Pragmatic fixes have trumped long-term and deeper reforms as they have been seen to deliver quick results.
FULL POST (“Trickery” and the rule of law in Timor-Leste)
Photo: UN Photo/Martine Perret

“Trickery” and the rule of law in Timor-Leste 

from Crisis Group’s blog, Resolving Conflict in South East Asia 

By Cillian Nolan

The UN peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) is now in the final stages of its long-planned withdrawal. By the end of December, the only staff left will be packing up computers and dismantling the portable containers at its “Obrigado Barracks” headquarters. Following largely peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year, Timorese are in confident spirits about the many challenges ahead. But after thirteen years of UN presence in the country, it is natural that there is some apprehension among some about security after the end of peace operations.

The Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) coalition government in office from 2007-12 never found in the UN a fitting partner for reform. It saw more value in devising and implementing its own solutions. This was most notable in its response to the displacement that followed the 2006 crisis. While the UN favoured a phased, sustainable, decade-long approach to returning tens of thousands in IDP camps, the government instead handed out up to $4500 to households and closed the camps in two years. When then  President José Ramos-Horta was shot in February 2008, UNMIT’s response was criticised as slow and clumsy. The government quickly set up a joint army-police command to handle security, just as UNMIT was supposed to be articulating clearer divisions between the two forces. Pragmatic fixes have trumped long-term and deeper reforms as they have been seen to deliver quick results.

FULL POST (“Trickery” and the rule of law in Timor-Leste)

Photo: UN Photo/Martine Perret

10 Jul
Indonesian electoral roll plagued with errors | ABC News
By George Roberts
An expert on South East Asia says Indonesia needs to fix its electoral roll, or risk a constitutional challenge to the next elected president.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) says Indonesia’s list of about 170 million voters is largely inaccurate, with some people listed multiple times.
FULL ARTICLE (ABC News)
Photo: The Official CTBTO Photostream/Flickr

Indonesian electoral roll plagued with errors | ABC News

By George Roberts

An expert on South East Asia says Indonesia needs to fix its electoral roll, or risk a constitutional challenge to the next elected president.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) says Indonesia’s list of about 170 million voters is largely inaccurate, with some people listed multiple times.

FULL ARTICLE (ABC News)

Photo: The Official CTBTO Photostream/Flickr

29 May
Lady Gaga: Indonesian hardliners’ latest victory | Al Arabiya
By AFP
Lady Gaga’s decision to cancel the Indonesian leg of her world tour due to threats by Muslim hardliners highlights how groups pushing a strict view of Islam are growing increasingly powerful, analysts say.Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, officially secular Indonesia is often touted by Western leaders as a beacon of moderate Islam and a model for the Muslim world — as visiting U.S. President Barack Obama did in 2010.But a series of attacks on Christians, Muslim minorities and those deemed “enemies of Islam”, combined with the apparent unwillingness of the government and courts to clamp down has sparked concerns over the rise of the hardliners.
FULL ARTICLE (AFP via Al Arabiya)
Photo: Reuters

Lady Gaga: Indonesian hardliners’ latest victory | Al Arabiya

By AFP

Lady Gaga’s decision to cancel the Indonesian leg of her world tour due to threats by Muslim hardliners highlights how groups pushing a strict view of Islam are growing increasingly powerful, analysts say.

Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, officially secular Indonesia is often touted by Western leaders as a beacon of moderate Islam and a model for the Muslim world — as visiting U.S. President Barack Obama did in 2010.

But a series of attacks on Christians, Muslim minorities and those deemed “enemies of Islam”, combined with the apparent unwillingness of the government and courts to clamp down has sparked concerns over the rise of the hardliners.

FULL ARTICLE (AFP via Al Arabiya)

Photo: Reuters

8 May
Strategic Review | ASEAN needs observers to monitor the peace in its own backyard
Jim Della-Giacoma, 8 May 2012
Unarmed monitors have made news in recent weeks with the United Nations Security Council’s creation of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria to oversee the peace agreement brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan. Indonesia immediately offered to deploy six of its Lebanon-based peacekeepers to support this mission.
But Jakarta does not need to send its soldiers to the other side of the world to make a difference. There are peace agreements to be monitored in its very own backyard. Before this can happen though, ASEAN’s member states need a new mind-set for dealing with regional conflicts.
The rapid pace of peacemaking in Myanmar may soon create a new challenge. Since signing their first agreement on January 12, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar government have been discussing a role for local and foreign observers. “It is very important for the international community to keep watching,” said Naw May Oo Mutraw, a KNU spokeswoman.
If a new monitoring mechanism is created, it will set an important precedent that could then be reflected in any future deal with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Even if the recent uptick in clashes between the KIO and Myanmar government forces is cause for concern, the prospect of a cease-fire has improved following the creation of a new peace panel. Now, ASEAN members need to decide whether they can play a role in monitoring this important part of Myanmar’s national reconciliation process.
Monitors need not be uniformed soldiers or wear blue helmets. In negotiating the terms of reference for Indonesian observers to go to the Thai-Cambodian border in April and May of 2011, Thai diplomats went to some length to address the nationalistic concerns of their soldiers about the presence of foreign troops. “No military in the world likes to have foreign soldiers on their soil,” one retired Thai general told me.
It was a weak argument, as he knew very well that the Thai Army had itself volunteered to join the Australia-led INTERFET peacekeeping force in East Timor in 1999 and the joint ASEAN-EU Aceh Monitoring Mission in 2005, which deployed military-civilian teams. The Indonesian monitors for the Thai-Cambodian border were also to be mixed.
Jakarta showed flexibility, conceding that its enlisted men need not wear uniforms, insignia, rank or even flags. “We didn’t care what they wore,” one Indonesian official told me at the time. “We were ready to dress them like Pak Camat (subdistrict chiefs) if they would allow them to deploy.” It is such pragmatism for peace – substance over form – that needs to be encouraged within ASEAN.
There is active monitoring in Southeast Asia, but not through ASEAN structures. In the southern Philippines, the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has worked to cement the cease-fire between Muslim insurgents and the government. The April 24 “decision points on principles” between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  envision a role for monitors after the parties sign a peace agreement, which would likely draw on countries and organizations already involved in the IMT and International Contact Group that attend the negotiations.
It has been more than a year since Cambodia signed terms of reference on May 5, 2011 inviting Indonesian observers onto its soil around the Preah Vihear temple to monitor a shaky verbal truce. As yet another anniversary of this unfulfilled agreement passed this month, it is a reminder that there is still more to do to convince ASEAN members of the merits of observers.
With the demand for monitors continuing, it is worth reflecting on why the 2011 attempt to deploy them along the Thai-Cambodian border failed. While civilian leaders in Bangkok agreed to the plan as part of an ASEAN framework, the Thai Army considered it an insult and thus the deployment was blocked.
Indulging such obstinacy is a lingering problem for ASEAN. If not countered, it will become the default response by members. Internationally, inaction will be seen as one of its norms rather than a can-do attitude towards resolving conflict.
Its own political-security community blueprint envisages a “cohesive, peaceful and resilient region with shared responsibility for comprehensive security,” but limits observers to just watching military exercises. Without a more proactive stance, the vision for the region’s security will remain only pretty words with potential cooperation on other regional security issues through multilateral frameworks such as the ASEAN Regional Forum or East Asia Summit increasingly impeded.
Thailand and Cambodia also have a legal obligation to deploy observers to monitor the provisional demilitarized zone ordered by the International Court of Justice. Ignoring such obligations is a black mark against all in the region, especially as ASEAN members try to burnish their credentials as good global citizens by participating in other missions in places such as Syria.
ASEAN needs workable ways of dealing with its own conflicts, whether inside or outside its formal structures. Monitors are but one tool in what should be a better equipped regional toolbox. Rather than focus all attention on creating a new body, such as the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, it needs to take concrete steps to make peace now.
As was tried in 2011, ad hoc meetings of foreign ministers could empower envoys to make the peace and dispatch monitors to observe subsequent deals. Not every effort will succeed, but trying is better than doing nothing at all.
ASEAN’s 10 members need to be less risk-averse and ready to accept some failure as down payment on a harmonious region. The region is dotted with dormant conflicts, each with the potential to ignite the kind of tensions that can damage the solidarity needed to derive the dividends from grand visions such as economic integration.
Good global citizenship is to be encouraged, but when the next call comes for monitors from an ASEAN member, those who raise their hands to help should also come from within the neighborhood and not just from the other end of the globe.
(Strategic Review)
Photo: Jerry Morrison/Wikimedia Commons

Strategic Review | ASEAN needs observers to monitor the peace in its own backyard

Jim Della-Giacoma, 8 May 2012

Unarmed monitors have made news in recent weeks with the United Nations Security Council’s creation of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria to oversee the peace agreement brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan. Indonesia immediately offered to deploy six of its Lebanon-based peacekeepers to support this mission.

But Jakarta does not need to send its soldiers to the other side of the world to make a difference. There are peace agreements to be monitored in its very own backyard. Before this can happen though, ASEAN’s member states need a new mind-set for dealing with regional conflicts.

The rapid pace of peacemaking in Myanmar may soon create a new challenge. Since signing their first agreement on January 12, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar government have been discussing a role for local and foreign observers. “It is very important for the international community to keep watching,” said Naw May Oo Mutraw, a KNU spokeswoman.

If a new monitoring mechanism is created, it will set an important precedent that could then be reflected in any future deal with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Even if the recent uptick in clashes between the KIO and Myanmar government forces is cause for concern, the prospect of a cease-fire has improved following the creation of a new peace panel. Now, ASEAN members need to decide whether they can play a role in monitoring this important part of Myanmar’s national reconciliation process.

Monitors need not be uniformed soldiers or wear blue helmets. In negotiating the terms of reference for Indonesian observers to go to the Thai-Cambodian border in April and May of 2011, Thai diplomats went to some length to address the nationalistic concerns of their soldiers about the presence of foreign troops. “No military in the world likes to have foreign soldiers on their soil,” one retired Thai general told me.

It was a weak argument, as he knew very well that the Thai Army had itself volunteered to join the Australia-led INTERFET peacekeeping force in East Timor in 1999 and the joint ASEAN-EU Aceh Monitoring Mission in 2005, which deployed military-civilian teams. The Indonesian monitors for the Thai-Cambodian border were also to be mixed.

Jakarta showed flexibility, conceding that its enlisted men need not wear uniforms, insignia, rank or even flags. “We didn’t care what they wore,” one Indonesian official told me at the time. “We were ready to dress them like Pak Camat (subdistrict chiefs) if they would allow them to deploy.” It is such pragmatism for peace – substance over form – that needs to be encouraged within ASEAN.

There is active monitoring in Southeast Asia, but not through ASEAN structures. In the southern Philippines, the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has worked to cement the cease-fire between Muslim insurgents and the government. The April 24 “decision points on principles” between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  envision a role for monitors after the parties sign a peace agreement, which would likely draw on countries and organizations already involved in the IMT and International Contact Group that attend the negotiations.

It has been more than a year since Cambodia signed terms of reference on May 5, 2011 inviting Indonesian observers onto its soil around the Preah Vihear temple to monitor a shaky verbal truce. As yet another anniversary of this unfulfilled agreement passed this month, it is a reminder that there is still more to do to convince ASEAN members of the merits of observers.

With the demand for monitors continuing, it is worth reflecting on why the 2011 attempt to deploy them along the Thai-Cambodian border failed. While civilian leaders in Bangkok agreed to the plan as part of an ASEAN framework, the Thai Army considered it an insult and thus the deployment was blocked.

Indulging such obstinacy is a lingering problem for ASEAN. If not countered, it will become the default response by members. Internationally, inaction will be seen as one of its norms rather than a can-do attitude towards resolving conflict.

Its own political-security community blueprint envisages a “cohesive, peaceful and resilient region with shared responsibility for comprehensive security,” but limits observers to just watching military exercises. Without a more proactive stance, the vision for the region’s security will remain only pretty words with potential cooperation on other regional security issues through multilateral frameworks such as the ASEAN Regional Forum or East Asia Summit increasingly impeded.

Thailand and Cambodia also have a legal obligation to deploy observers to monitor the provisional demilitarized zone ordered by the International Court of Justice. Ignoring such obligations is a black mark against all in the region, especially as ASEAN members try to burnish their credentials as good global citizens by participating in other missions in places such as Syria.

ASEAN needs workable ways of dealing with its own conflicts, whether inside or outside its formal structures. Monitors are but one tool in what should be a better equipped regional toolbox. Rather than focus all attention on creating a new body, such as the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, it needs to take concrete steps to make peace now.

As was tried in 2011, ad hoc meetings of foreign ministers could empower envoys to make the peace and dispatch monitors to observe subsequent deals. Not every effort will succeed, but trying is better than doing nothing at all.

ASEAN’s 10 members need to be less risk-averse and ready to accept some failure as down payment on a harmonious region. The region is dotted with dormant conflicts, each with the potential to ignite the kind of tensions that can damage the solidarity needed to derive the dividends from grand visions such as economic integration.

Good global citizenship is to be encouraged, but when the next call comes for monitors from an ASEAN member, those who raise their hands to help should also come from within the neighborhood and not just from the other end of the globe.

(Strategic Review)

Photo: Jerry Morrison/Wikimedia Commons

4 May
The Democratic Voice of Burma | Suu Kyi embraces new role and compromise
For over two decades pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi defied Burma’s army rulers with steely resolve, but analysts say she has now embraced compromise, even if that means putting principles aside.
The Nobel laureate was sworn in Wednesday as a member of parliament, a week after initially refusing to take the oath of office over the wording of the army-drafted constitution.
She climbed down after President Thein Sein failed to offer concessions, indicating compromise may now be the order of the day as Burma creeps towards democracy in an astonishing reform process.
But the delay meant that on Monday when UN chief Ban Ki-moon became the first foreign leader to make a speech at the nation’s new parliament, Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy colleagues were conspicuously absent.
“The NLD has given the impression, once again, of having missed the train,” according to Renaud Egreteau, a Burmese expert at the University of Hong Kong.
Many of Suu Kyi’s supporters will welcome her historic debut in political office following the NLD’s sweep in April’s by-elections, held after an historic national vote in 2010.
But Egreteau says there are indications of a divide within the NLD between hardliners reluctant to work with the military, and a more pragmatic group that Suu Kyi is increasingly inclined to join.
FULL ARTICLE (AFP via The Democratic Voice of Burma) 
Photo: Htoo Tay Zar/ Wikimedia Commons

The Democratic Voice of Burma | Suu Kyi embraces new role and compromise

For over two decades pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi defied Burma’s army rulers with steely resolve, but analysts say she has now embraced compromise, even if that means putting principles aside.

The Nobel laureate was sworn in Wednesday as a member of parliament, a week after initially refusing to take the oath of office over the wording of the army-drafted constitution.

She climbed down after President Thein Sein failed to offer concessions, indicating compromise may now be the order of the day as Burma creeps towards democracy in an astonishing reform process.

But the delay meant that on Monday when UN chief Ban Ki-moon became the first foreign leader to make a speech at the nation’s new parliament, Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy colleagues were conspicuously absent.

“The NLD has given the impression, once again, of having missed the train,” according to Renaud Egreteau, a Burmese expert at the University of Hong Kong.

Many of Suu Kyi’s supporters will welcome her historic debut in political office following the NLD’s sweep in April’s by-elections, held after an historic national vote in 2010.

But Egreteau says there are indications of a divide within the NLD between hardliners reluctant to work with the military, and a more pragmatic group that Suu Kyi is increasingly inclined to join.

FULL ARTICLE (AFP via The Democratic Voice of Burma) 

Photo: Htoo Tay Zar/ Wikimedia Commons

25 Apr
Reuters | Myanmar sanctions lifting a boon and a test for China firms
The lifting of decades of broad Western sanctions on Myanmar will prove to be both a boon and a test for China, for years the former Burma’s top investor and trading partner, bringing both risk and opportunity for long-established Chinese firms.
The United States, European Union, Japan, Canada and Australia have all moved in recent weeks to ease or suspend sanctions on Myanmar, as the once pariah nation embarks on landmark democratic reforms and seeks engagement with the world.
While sanctions have blocked many Western investments, China has become Myanmar’s biggest ally, investing in infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs.
But with European, U.S. and Japanese firms all chomping at the bit to get in, Chinese firms long present in Myanmar with little competition could be in for a shock.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters) 

Reuters | Myanmar sanctions lifting a boon and a test for China firms

The lifting of decades of broad Western sanctions on Myanmar will prove to be both a boon and a test for China, for years the former Burma’s top investor and trading partner, bringing both risk and opportunity for long-established Chinese firms.

The United States, European Union, Japan, Canada and Australia have all moved in recent weeks to ease or suspend sanctions on Myanmar, as the once pariah nation embarks on landmark democratic reforms and seeks engagement with the world.

While sanctions have blocked many Western investments, China has become Myanmar’s biggest ally, investing in infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs.

But with European, U.S. and Japanese firms all chomping at the bit to get in, Chinese firms long present in Myanmar with little competition could be in for a shock.

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters) 

Deutsche Welle | Report says China policy is stirring South China Sea dispute
An International Crisis Group report blames Chinese structures for the failure to resolve South China Sea dispute. It adds that regional nationalism is exacerbating the tension.

The territorial dispute over the islands, atolls, shoals, reefs and sandbars of the South China Sea goes back decades. Even though most of the islands are uninhabited, the region, which straddles several key shipping lanes, is thought to be extremely rich in natural resources.
In 2009, tension rose again when Beijing presented a “nine-dotted line” (also known as the “U-shaped line” or “nine-dash map”), to the UN to officially lay claim to the region. Chinese sources say the document dates back to 1947. Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia officially registered their prote.
FULL ARTICLE (Deutsche Welle)

Deutsche Welle | Report says China policy is stirring South China Sea dispute

An International Crisis Group report blames Chinese structures for the failure to resolve South China Sea dispute. It adds that regional nationalism is exacerbating the tension.

The territorial dispute over the islands, atolls, shoals, reefs and sandbars of the South China Sea goes back decades. Even though most of the islands are uninhabited, the region, which straddles several key shipping lanes, is thought to be extremely rich in natural resources.

In 2009, tension rose again when Beijing presented a “nine-dotted line” (also known as the “U-shaped line” or “nine-dash map”), to the UN to officially lay claim to the region. Chinese sources say the document dates back to 1947. Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia officially registered their prote.

FULL ARTICLE (Deutsche Welle)