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This is not a "solution", but if you get stuck with this an easy hack is to extend Canvas, add a Panel, then declare your buttons, and use x,y to position them "above" the titlebar.
I don't think it is the "right" way, but it damn sure works.
I have gathered more information about this issue today. it seems that the issue is not the panel, but the outer container that I embedded it into. The effect I was trying to get was a panel with a highlight at the top. To do this the border alpha has to be set to "0" otherwise you see odd artifacts, but then the highlight can only apply to the background color.
To get the effect I wanted, I embeded the panel with the highlight and buttons inside another panel (with the backgroundColor i wanted and solid border) embeding the panels is what caused the mouse events to go missing. Changing the outer Panel to a Canvas fixed the problem.
However I still think there is a problem with Panels. embedding a Panel inside another Panel should not make the mouse events disappear. I'm just not sure where the real problem is.
If anyone is curious, i can prepare a simple test app that shows the bug.
Hmm, an alpha="0" will stop mouse events in some situations. This is in the docs somewhere.
I do not know if it applies to your situation.