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Aceh administration agrees to change contentious flag: Government

Jakarta Post - August 3, 2013

Ina Parlina and Yuliasri Perdani, Jakarta – Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi is claiming that the Aceh administration has opened negotiations to change its official provincial flag and coat of arms, which has stirred controversy since it was launched in March.

"Yes, there is a spirit to change them. There will likely be a new symbol [and flag]. There is a joint team of central and local administration representatives to discuss it within two months," the minister said on the sidelines of a plenary cabinet meeting at the Presidential Office on Friday.

The joint team, which will start working on Aug. 15, is set to deliberate the much-debated qanun (bylaw) No. 3/2013 on the Aceh provincial flag and coat of arms, which assigns the province as the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Bouraq and Lion as the Aceh provincial flag and symbol.

The team will comprise representatives of central government and Aceh administration, as well as Aceh legislators.

The bylaw, which was passed by the Aceh Provincial Legislative Council (DPRA) on March 24, has sparked anger of the ruling authorities in Jakarta.

In the face of central government's resistance, some Acehnese proudly hoist the official provincial flags.

On Friday, dozens of Aceh Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel took down hundreds of "Aceh flags" in Lhokseumawe, Aceh. None of the locals reacted strongly against the operation.

"I don't know about [the incident]; but the governor [Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah] has indeed asked people not to raise GAM flag again as there is still an ongoing negotiation," Gamawan said.

Home Ministry spokesperson Restu Ardy Daud said that the governor also prohibited the flag during the commemoration of the Helsinki peace agreement on Aug 15.

"During a meeting on Thursday, the governor has agreed not to unfurl the Aceh flag, which we have not agreed on. This also applies during the commemoration of Helsinki peace agreement. We appreciate the governor for that," Restu said on Friday.

Since being signed in 2005, the Helsinki peace agreement, signed in 2005 ends the decades-long armed insurgency launched by the GAM.

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.

The central government bases its argument on Article 4 (2) of the Helsinki agreement, which stipulates that "GAM members will not wear uniforms or display military insignia or symbols after the signing of this MoU".

The Aceh Party, which was founded by former GAM rebels, has persistently defended the Aceh flag to be recognized by the central government. Governor Zaini, who belongs to the Aceh Party, has discussed with governmental officials in hopes of maintaining the flag.

In May, Constitutional Court chief Akil Mochtar defended Zaini's stance, claiming that the 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 rights to use regional symbols, including a flag, insignia and hymn as stipulated by Law No. 11/2006 on Aceh Government.