Novianti Setuningsih, Jakarta – The government in Aceh has agreed to back down from its plans to adopt the flag of the now-disbanded separatist Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, after Jakarta pledged to allow the local government to control one of its oil and gas blocks, top officials said on Thursday.
"There has been a deal through the coordinating ministry for the economy," said Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, the minister. "Both sides have reached an agreement."
The Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said said Jakarta had agreed to award Aceh control over one of its oil and gas blocks, the Pase block. The block, Sudirman said, would be managed by a province-owned enterprise Perusahaan Daerah Pembangunan Aceh.
But Jakarta still needs to issue a government decree awarding the local firm the block's management rights. A draft of the decree "is still being formulated. Just a little bit more required," Sudirman said.
Jakarta has criticized Aceh's adoption of the GAM flag as its provincial standard since it was proposed in March last year.
The central government argued that it violated the 2005 peace agreement between the GAM and the government, but Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah, himself a former GAM commander, argued that the Finland-brokered peace deal did not include the specifics of Aceh's flag.
Officials in Aceh said the flag, featuring a crescent moon and star on a red background, predated the separatist movement, claiming it was the symbol of the ancient kingdom that once ruled the region.
But Jakarta insists, saying the symbol is one of those outlawed, a list which also includes the South Maluku Republic's Benang Raja flag and the Free Papua Organization's Bintang Kejora flag.
In defiance, thousands of people in Aceh have been raising the GAM flag, prompting forceful seizures and tensions between civilians and members of the security forces. When he returned to office for the second time this year, Vice President Jusuf Kalla immediately sought to appease tensions between Aceh and Jakarta.
Talks between Zaini and the central government, mediated by Kalla, who was instrumental in the 2005 peace deal, started last week.
Zaini earlier said Jakarta had promised Aceh control over the province's oil concessions and land management rights since the 2005 accord, but talks between the two sides stalled when then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dropped Kalla as his vice president.
"Now that [Kalla] is vice president again" talks resumed, the governor said last week.
Zaini said that Aceh earlier wanted control over oil both onshore and as far as 370 kilometers offshore. Aceh also wants 70 percent of the profits.
Details of the deal are still obscure, but Jakarta has previously said it will only provide Aceh mining concession rights to oil and iron sand located along the coastlines of several islands in the province.