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TNI pans use of GAM flag as Aceh standard

Jakarta Globe - November 22, 2012

SP/Muhammad Hamzah, Banda Aceh – The military's top officer in Aceh has objected to calls to use the flag of a defunct separatist group as the official flag of the province.

Maj. Gen. Zahari Siregar, head of the Iskandar Muda Military Command, which oversees military operations across the province, said on Thursday that the proposal by the Aceh administration to the provincial legislature to use the flag of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) could revive separatist sentiment in the province.

He argued that the draft of the qanun, or Islamic-based bylaw, had already been widely criticized by academics and historians, and should not be allowed to pass by the legislature.

He said that under a 2007 government regulation on regional insignia, no official flags or seals may contain any likeness to or elements from flags or seals of outlawed or separatist organizations.

Under the qanun, the provincial flag will be identical to that of the GAM, an organization that waged a bloody separatist struggle for 29 years before it was disbanded in late 2005 following a peace deal with the government.

"If it does get approved, the Aceh administration will have to get further approval from the central government," Zahari said, adding that it was unlikely that Jakarta would agree to the change.

He also urged Aceh residents not to hoist the GAM flag on Dec. 4, the anniversary of the organization's founding, warning that any such acts would be treated as a security threat and dealt with accordingly by the military.

The GAM flag features a white crescent and star imposed on a red background with horizontal bands of white, black and white stripes running above and below it.

Adnan Beuransyah, a member of the provincial legislature, said the draft of the qanun was "nearly final" and was expected to be passed by the legislature before the end of the month.

However, he said there was still some tweaking to do, including on the dimensions of the crescent and star and the width of the black and white stripes.

He argued that because the GAM no longer existed, the prohibition on using its flag did not apply. Adnan said he was not worried the Home Affairs Ministry would refuse to acknowledge the new flag.

"What we're approving is essentially the aspirations of the people, not the aspirations of those in power," Adnan said.

Husaini Husda, a historian at the Ar-Raniry State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) in Banda Aceh, approved of the proposed flag, saying it resembled the old flag of the Aceh sultanate.