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Aceh flag deadline passed, talks go on

Jakarta Post - May 8, 2013

Ina Parlina, National – The two-week deadline has passed but the central government and the Aceh provincial administration are no closer to resolving the controversial plan to change the province's official flag, which resembles the flag of the now-defunct separatist group, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

The Home Ministry set the deadline for clarification of the plan late last month but a meeting between Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi and Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah reached deadlock last week. The only agreement made between the two sides is that they would form a team of seven members each to settle the problem. Both teams are set to meet on Tuesday in Batam.

"Although we [the central government] are still encouraging a change in the format and design of the Aceh flag as it does not comply with Government Regulation No. 77/2007 on regional symbols, we are trying to find common ground between the two sides," Home Ministry spokesman Reydonnyzar Moenek said on Tuesday.

The central government team comprises representatives from the Home Ministry, Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the Administrative Reforms Ministry, while the Aceh team consists of members of the Aceh Legislative Council (DPRA) and the provincial administration.

The Aceh provincial administration had approved the use of the crescent-and-star flag and the Bouraq divine bird as the flag and symbol of the province through Bylaw No. 3/2013 which took effect on March 25.

The Aceh administration based its position on the Helsinki memorandum of understanding (MoU), which states that the province may have its own flag and coat-of-arms due to its special status.

However, article 4.2 of the MoU stipulates that GAM members should no longer wear uniforms or display the emblem or military symbol in public, although the GAM flag is not regarded as a sovereign flag.

The central government rejects the flag as it violates 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 or flag of any banned organizations or separatist movements within the Republic.

The central government reacted by sending a letter to the provincial administration that gave it two weeks for clarification of the ordinance.

Several regencies, especially in the south, rejected the GAM flag and symbol, threatening the formation of a new province should the Aceh administration insist on using them. However, it appeared that both parties seemed to be calm and patient, waiting for the best peaceful solution.

Last week, Zaini came to the Constitutional Court to discuss the matter with chief justice Akil Mochtar.

Zaini said that the GAM flag was not meant to replace the Republic's red and white flag and that they "had no intention of seceding from Indonesia".