Ina Parlina, Jakarta – The President is telling the people of Aceh to follow the law and to only fly the Indonesian flag – and not a flag inspired by a former separatist movement – for the next two weeks.
"It is clear that the Red-and-White should be displayed throughout the whole motherland. It is our flag," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Friday.
"A region may have its own symbols, but they should be in line with all prevailing regulations and laws."
Yudhoyono also warned against a recurrence of the decades-long armed insurgency launched by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), praising Aceh and its people for tremendous strides since GAM and the central government agreed to end the conflict in 2005 in Helsinki, following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 that killed 126,000 and devastated the province.
"Any thoughts or ideas that could be perceived as the continuation of separatism should be stopped," the President said.
Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi visited Banda Aceh on Thursday to discuss with provincial authorities a recently passed local bylaw incorporating GAM's flag into the provincial flag.
On Thursday, convoys of people drove through the streets of Banda Aceh, brandishing the flag, although Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah had asked local residents not to. The convoys followed protests throughout the province earlier in the week to support the bylaw.
While the Helsinki Agreement gave Aceh the right to use regional symbols in its flags, crests and songs, the central government has insisted that the province adhere to national law in doing so.
Yuhoyono reiterated that stance on Friday. "About the controversy, or the issue on the symbols. This is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of law."
On Tuesday, the central government sent the provincial administration a letter asking it to clarify the local bylaw within 15 days to ensure that it did not conflict with national law.
"I still hope that within two weeks this will all be over and there will no longer be disturbances related to the issue," Yudhoyono said, adding that he hoped no new issue would emerge to return Aceh to its previous conflicts
Yudhoyono apparently took a softer line than the former vice president Jusuf Kalla, who was the central government's principal negotiator in Helsinki.
Kala said recently that no defense could be offered for displaying the GAM flag under the Helsinki Agreement, which included points that clearly prohibited the use of GAM symbols.
Noted lawyer Yusril Ihza Mahenda also said that such moves violated the results of meeting last year when participants agreed that Aceh would adopt a provincial flag incorporating the symbol of the local sultanate and not GAM iconography.
Counter-demonstrations were also held on Thursday by hundreds of residents in Central Aceh. They raised the red-and-white national flag to support the central government.