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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid