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Aceh's controversial flag is legal, Constitutional Court chief says

Jakarta Post - May 1, 2013

Ina Parlina, Jakarta – Constitutional Court chief Akil Mochtar said on Tuesday there was no need to fret about Aceh's official flag, which resembles the flag of the now-defunct separatist group, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Akil, a former Golkar Party lawmaker, said the use of the GAM symbol as Aceh's provincial flag was in line with the 1945 Constitution. "The Constitution stipulates that our national standard is the red-and-white flag. However, it also recognizes special regions, such as Papua and Yogyakarta," he said, adding that Aceh had the right to use regional symbols, including a flag, insignia and hymn as stipulated by Law No. 11/2006 on Aceh Government.

Akil made the statement following a meeting on Tuesday with Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah, regarding the matter, which had raised the hackles of political leaders in Jakarta.

Zaini said that the GAM flag was not meant to replace the republic's red and white flag. "The flag is just to show a specialty of Aceh. There is nothing sinister about it. This is no different to flags in other special regions such as Yogyakarta, Ternate and Jakarta," he said.

"We have no intention of seceding from Indonesia. We live in peaceful conditions under the Unitary Republic of Indonesia," he said. "It is only a matter of differences in viewing the GAM flag. These are frictions that we do not need to worry about. We hope that we can find the wisest solution."

The Aceh Provincial Legislative Council passed a local bylaw in late March making GAM's flag as the provincial flag.

Aceh Deputy Governor Muzakir Manaf, a former GAM commander, said the flag was a symbol of the struggles and sacrifices of the Acehnese, and it was natural for it to become the province's flag.

The central government rejected the flag as it violated Government Regulation No. 77/2007 on regional symbols, which stipulates that the design of a regional symbol and flag must not be in part, or as a whole, the same as the symbol and flag of any banned organizations or separatist movements within the Republic.

Akil assured the governor that use of the GAM symbol did not break any regulations, but acknowledged the reasons behind the government's objection.

"The objection from the central government probably centers on the substance. This should be discussed thoroughly by the central government and the Aceh administration," he said. "Let us just say that it might be considered a threat to the sovereignty of the country."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has told the people of Aceh to abide by the law and only to fly the Indonesian flag.

The central government sent a letter to Aceh early this month asking for clarification within 15 days and to ensure that it did not run counter to the national laws. The President also warned against a recurrence of the decades of armed insurgency launched by GAM.

Zaini argued that they actually had no deadline to reach the best solution as long as they were able to maintain a peaceful ambience, saying that he had tried to tell the people of Aceh to be patient.

The governor may meet with Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi again on Wednesday to seek pursue this "best solution". The minister visited Banda Aceh recently to discuss the flag issue with the local government.

Separately on Tuesday, Gamawan said that the central government insisted Aceh would not fly a flag inspired by a former separatist movement. "Tomorrow, there will be a solution; we will offer them a concept [...] which does not resemble the GAM flag," Gamawan said.