News / Asia

Indonesia Flag Dispute Revives Separatist Fears

An Acehnese man waves a Crescent-Star flag during a rally outside Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, April 1, 2013.
An Acehnese man waves a Crescent-Star flag during a rally outside Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, April 1, 2013.
Sara Schonhardt
Thousands of demonstrators rallied in Indonesia’s northernmost province, Aceh, to support using a separatist flag as their official symbol. The dispute about the flag has raised tensions between Aceh lawmakers who support that change and the central government in Jakarta, which says such symbols remain outlawed.

Aceh has struggled to exert its autonomy in the years since separatist fighters signed a peace treaty with the central government, ending three decades of bloody insurgency.

That treaty granted Aceh special autonomy status and the power to choose its own flag and symbol. Last month, the local government passed a bylaw to allow the flag used by the former separatist Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, to serve as the province’s official banner and its symbol - a lion and a mythical horse with wings - to become the provincial emblem.

Since then, thousands of people have held rallies in the provincial capital to wave the flag and show their support for the bylaw.

Officials say the flag - a red banner with a white star and crescent - is a source of pride and unity for the Achenese people. Aceh watchers say the government is trying to revive it as a way to exert its authority over Jakarta.

“For Achenese people they try to revive this symbol again, as maybe like a hallmark, and they try to exercise this new era of local politics with greater freedom from the central government,” explained Nezar Patria, the managing editor of the online news website Viva News and a researcher on Aceh issues.

However, the central government has not been pleased with Aceh’s decision.

On Wednesday, former vice president Jusuf Kalla, who helped negotiate the peace agreement that brought an end to the conflict, said that, under the terms of the treaty, the GAM flag was prohibited.

President Susilo Bambang Yuodhoyono has also questioned the flag’s use and sent the home affairs minister to Aceh to hold talks with local officials.

Sidney Jones, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, says it is unlikely the government will ever let the bylaw stand since it could have wider implications for separatist movements in other parts of Indonesia, particularly Papua.

“If people in Papua see Acehnese making a big issue over the flag and raising the GAM flag everywhere then we could see similar acts of defiance using the Morning Star flag in Papua," suggested Jones. "And, I think that’s very much on the minds of policy makers in Jakarta.”

The crescent-star flag was used by GAM during the armed conflict and those found in possession of it by Indonesian security forces were frequently beaten or arrested.

Aceh’s local parliament is now controlled by the Aceh Party, which consists almost entirely of former GAM members.

Jones says many of those former rebels may be deliberately trying to challenge Jakarta’s authority by pushing for more of the provisions granted under the peace agreement that have not been carried out or implemented.

Despite being rich in oil and other natural resources, Aceh has some of Indonesia’s highest rates of poverty and unemployment and efforts to address the abuses committed during the separatist insurgency have stalled.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid