Aceh insistent on flying GAM flag

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Medan (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The Aceh provincial administration is adamant on keeping a qanun (bylaw) on the Aceh flag and coat-of-arms valid by designating the separatist crescent-and-star flag as the official flag of the province.

Aceh Deputy Governor Muzakir Manaf said on Saturday the Aceh flag was a symbol of the struggles and sacrifices experienced by the Acehnese, therefore it was natural to be designated as the Aceh flag.

He explained the suggestion to designate the crescent-and-star flag as the Aceh flag had gone through all necessary processes before being endorsed at the Aceh Legislative Council (DPRA).

Muzakir, a former commander of the now-defunct Free Aceh Movement (GAM), said the administration had also agreed to designate the flag as the province's official flag.

"This is a characteristic that differentiates Aceh from other provinces," he told The Jakarta Post at the Aceh provincial administration's representative office in Medan where he attended a ceremony to commemorate Maulid Nabi, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad.

The DPRA assigned the GAM flag and Bouraq-and-Lion as the provincial coat-of-arms through Qanun No. 3/2013 on the provincial flag and coat-of-arms. The bylaw took effect on March 25.

The flag is a white crescent and star on a red base with two sets of white-black-white stripes across the top and bottom of the flag.

Muzakir insisted the qanun was simply a manifestation of the Helsinki Peace Accord as stipulated in Article 77 and there should be nothing to be worried about.

"What the Aceh provincial administration did does not violate the 1945 Constitution, so there is nothing to worry about," he said.

"The right to have its own regional flag and coat-of-arms is stipulated in the Helsinki Peace Accord."

He also maintained the entire Aceh community wanted the separatist flag as its provincial flag.

When asked about parts of Aceh that had rejected the use of GAM flag as its provincial flag, Muzakir branded those groups as not Acehnese.

Residents in central and southeast regions of Aceh have rejected the use of the flag and threatened to secede from Aceh and form a new province.

These regions are inhabited mostly by the Gayo ethnic group who refused to be categorized as Acehnese.

Regarding warnings from the central government to not use the GAM flag, Muzakir refused to comment but did say everything could be discussed. The government sent a clarification letter on Tuesday and gave the provincial administration 15 days to study the letter.

The Home Ministry rejects the flag as it violates Government Regulation No. 77/2000 on regional coat-of-arms. The regulation bans the use of flags or symbols similar to those owned by separatist movements or banned organizations.

Muzakir said the administration was willing to sit-down with the central government to find the best solution.

"There might be a win-win solution. But it can wait. One thing is for sure, this [flag] is the people's aspiration. There is nothing wrong about that," he said.

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