Peace advocates call on ASEAN to look into internal conflicts, too

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (MindaNews/01 April) – Peace advocates in Southeast Asia urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over the weekend to expand the mandate of its conflict resolution mechanism to include internal conflicts within its member states, among them the decades-old Moro rebellion in Mindanao.

Members of the Working Group on Peacebuilding of the 2012 ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum here issued the recommendation as they pressed for greater involvement from ASEAN in the resolution of various external and internal conflicts within the 10-nation regional bloc.

“It’s time for ASEAN to get involved by any means in solving the internal conflicts that presently affect four of its member-states,” peace advocate Carmen Gatmaytan, program manager of the Mindanao-based Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), said in a press conference here.

She was referring to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebellion in Mindanao, the Malay-Muslim insurgency in Southern Thailand, the rebellion in Aceh, Indonesia and the Karachin rebellion in Myanmar.

Gatmaytan said ASEAN has established conflict resolution mechanisms, which is included in its two-year old Charter, but it only deals with external problems.

She said the regional grouping has long been observing the “non-interference principle” on matters it deems internal or domestic in nature.

“We acknowledge that (non-interference principle) but it already has an existing (conflict resolution) mechanism. ASEAN should be more realistic and deal with these (continuing conflicts) on the ground if it wants to move forward with its economic integration and community-building initiatives,” Gatmaytan later told MindaNews.

In the case of the MILF, which is currently engaged in peace negotiations with the government, she said ASEAN may initially come in by assisting the facilitation of the talks that is handled by Malaysia.

“It doesn’t need to take a major role (in the negotiations). Having a voice in the process could be enough,” she said.

Aside from the expansion of ASEAN’s conflict resolution mechanism, the working group recommended the regional body’s mediation in the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia overr Preah Vihear, an 11th century Hindu temple located close to their shared borders.

The group said ASEAN must insist on the government of Thailand to follow and implement the recommendations over the dispute issued by the International Court of Justice, which had ruled in favor of Cambodia.

They urged ASEAN to work on the immediate withdrawal of both countries’  troops from the disputed area.

The peacebuilding working group recommended a review of ASEAN’s dispute mechanism and its concept should be expanded to include the role of women.

They also asked ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) to include the protection and security of women and children in its work plan.

The group urged the ACWC to address the situation of women and children in armed conflict and attend to the reported gender and sexual violations in conflict situations, specifically the alleged cases that happened in Myanmar.

To help enhance peacebuilding the initiatives within ASEAN, Gatmaytan said they recommended the allocation of funds from the regional body to promote peacebuilding activities within the region.

She said they are eyeing the Jakarta-based ASEAN Foundation as possible conduit for such initiative.

“We’re working right now to increase our engagements with the ACWC and seek a seat in ASEAN’s political and security committee so we can participate more in addressing these concerns,” Gatmaytan added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)