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Aceh GAM nostalgia symptomatic of wider regional angst: Pekat

Jakarta Globe - April 8, 2013

Rizky Amelia – The current furor over a decision by authorities in Aceh to adopt the flag of a defunct separatist group as the provincial standard highlights regional dissatisfaction with Jakarta's stewardship of the country, analysts say.

Justiani, an adviser with the National Unity Defense (Pekat), a think tank, said on Saturday that the planned adoption of the flag and seal of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in the country's westernmost province should serve as a warning to the central government.

"The Aceh authorities are giving Jakarta a clear signal through their decision to adopt the GAM flag," she said at a press conference in Jakarta.

The warning, she went on, was that the regional authorities not just in Aceh, but in other provinces nationwide, were disappointed with how the central government was managing the country, citing widely held grievances about government corruption, economic injustice, political elitism and ineffective law enforcement. "Indonesia isn't a failed state yet. But it's a disorderly state," she said.

Saurip Kadi, another Petak adviser, agreed that the perceived belligerence of the Aceh authorities was symptomatic of how other regions regarded the central government. "The problem here is more than just about the Aceh flag. It's an indictment of the central government's leadership," he said.

In Aceh's case, he argued, the province was rich in natural resources, including oil and gas, yet there was a sense among local authorities and residents that an unfairly high proportion of the revenue from the exploitation of those resources went to Jakarta rather than being plowed back into the development of Aceh.

Saurip urged the central government to address these grievances, warning that an inability to satisfactorily resolve the Aceh spat could set a bad precedent in its relations with authorities in other provinces. "Let's not have any more Acehs in Indonesia. Let's fix the system of national governance before that happens," he said.

The Aceh legislature and administration have come under fire from the central government over their decision in late March to adopt the flag of the GAM, a group that waged a nearly three-decade armed struggle for independence before its dissolution in 2005, as the flag of the province.

Authorities also chose the buraq, a mythical winged horse with a human face, as the provincial seal. The buraq was also associated with the GAM.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Friday that the move was a clear infraction of regulations banning the use of separatist insignia in official flags or seals.

"I don't want us to go backward. I want us to move forward together in developing Aceh and making it safer and more prosperous," he said in Jakarta. "Let us not give rise to new problems by digging up past conflicts."

The government has ordered Aceh authorities not to use the new flag or seal pending the outcome of an evaluation of the Islamic bylaw, or qanun, in which the change of flag and seal is enshrined. The evaluation by the Home Affairs Ministry is set to conclude on April 18.

The president also said he would invite the Aceh governor, Zaini Abdullah, to meet with him in Jakarta to discuss the matter.

The government argues that the qanun infringes at least three regulations: a government regulation banning the use of separatist insignia, the 2005 peace deal between the GAM and the government that ordered the disbanding of the rebel group and retirement of all associated insignia, and the law on Aceh's special autonomy.

"We worked hard to achieve a historic peace agreement in Aceh," Yudhoyono said. "We must put to an end any moves to revive separatist sentiment," he added.