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Jakarta seethes as talks on Aceh GAM flag fail

Jakarta Globe - July 26, 2013

Robertus Wardi – Officials in Jakarta have lashed out at the Aceh administration for its insistence on flying the flag of a now-disbanded separatist group as its provincial standard.

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi said in Jakarta on Thursday that he would take all steps to ensure that the flag, branded "separatist," was not raised on Aug. 15 as planned by Aceh authorities after talks with the central government aimed at ending the controversial plan fell through.

"I'll write a letter to the Aceh governor, as will the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs," he said. "The qanun on which the plan is based is not yet official, so the new flag can't be used," he said, referring to Aceh's adopted Islamic title for bylaws issued in the province. As with local regulations issued elsewhere in the country, qanun are trumped by national laws.

Gamawan said a team sent to Aceh to negotiate with the provincial administration would return on Aug. 31, at which point he would hold talks with them. But until then, he warned, the local authorities were prohibited from flying the flag.

Gamawan's remarks came in the wake of an announcement late on Wednesday by the provincial administration that it would raise the flag for the first time on Aug. 15, to mark the eighth anniversary of the peace deal that ended the three-decade-long insurgency waged by the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), now defunct.

Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah, a former GAM official, and the provincial legislature – dominated by the Aceh Party, founded by GAM ex-members – insist that the decision to adopt the GAM flag as the provincial standard reflects the popular sentiment in the province.

However, the central government argues that it goes against national laws banning the display of separatist insignia.