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Aceh governor decries removal of flags

Jakarta Globe - August 5, 2013

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah has criticized the action by security forces to forcefully seize hundreds of flags bearing the symbol of the now-disbanded separatist Free Aceh Movement without any consultation with him.

"It is regrettable that the governor of Aceh was not consulted in this matter. It is a violation of the agreement between the Aceh government and the central government," Zaini told a press conference at his residence on Sunday.

Zaini is a member of the ruling Aceh Party, which was formed by the leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

The provincial governor and legislators decided in March that the GAM flag would be the official symbol of Aceh, and Aceh Party supporters proceeded to hoist the flag in many places across the province.

He said nobody had the right to take down the flags because Aceh and Jakarta have not agreed on a solution to the flag issue since the 2005 peace agreement between GAM and the central government.

"The seizure is a provocative action. The Aceh military commander has stated that they would forcefully remove the flags," the governor said.

In the last few days, plainclothes security force personnel moved through the streets of several Aceh districts, seizing the flags.

Officers seized hundreds of flags in Lhokseumawe city early on Friday morning, as local residents, awake for their predawn Ramadan meal, looked on.

Armed soldiers and police showed up in Simpang Kuta Blang, Lhokseumawe, at 2:30 a.m. and fanned out across the city to confiscate the red crescent star flags that have flown in front of residents' homes and lined streets for more than two months.

"They even took down the large Aceh flag that was raised in Simpang Kandang," a local resident said, who declined to be identified.

Both the Lhokseumawe military and local police have been silent on the issue. Top army brass said they had not received orders from Jakarta to remove the flag.

"We just follow the government's policy," Army chief of staff Gen. Moeldoko said at a fast breaking event on Thursday. "Whatever the political decision is, we are ready."

The central government called the flag a symbol of separatist forces and said national laws overruled local bylaws, even in autonomous Aceh.