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Aceh GAM Flag Stripped From Lhokseumawe in Pre-Dawn Crackdown

BY NURDIN HASAN (THE JAKARTA GLOBE)

Banda Aceh, TAG –  Dozens of Indonesian plain-clothes security forces moved through the streets of Aceh’s Lhokseumawe city early Friday morning, seizing hundreds of flags bearing the symbol of the now-disbanded Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists as local residents, awake for their pre-dawn Ramadan meal, looked on.


The soldiers and police, all armed, 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 some streets for more than two months.
“They even took down the large Aceh flag that was raised in Simpang Kandang,” said a local resident 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 in provincial capital Banda Aceh on Thursday. “Whatever the political decision is, we are ready.”
The flag has been a hot-button issue in Jakarta since provincial legislators approved an Islamic bylaw, known as a qanun, in March adopting the flag as the official symbol of Aceh.
The central government called the flag a symbol of separatist forces and said that local bylaws, even in autonomous Aceh, are overruled by national laws.
The Ministry of Home Affairs will send a team of officials to hold talks with local legislators on August 31, minister Gamawan Fauzi said last week. Until the central government issued a decision, the flag would be barred from Aceh’s flagpoles, he said.
But the local administration, in an apparent slight to Jakarta, plans to raise the flag on April 15 to mark the eighth anniversary of the Helsinki peace treaty, an agreement that granted Aceh regional autonomy and ended GAM’s 30-year war with Indonesia.
Indonesian security forces will be seconded to the location on April 15 to confiscate all Aceh flags, Gamawan said.
“I urge everyone not to raise the flag on August 15,” he said. “We have to wait for the decision [from the central government]… the qanun on which the plan is based is not yet official. The flag cannot be used.”
Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah, a former GAM leader, has remained defiant, insisting that local residents fly the flag out of pride in their province.
His deputy, Muzakir Manaf, said the flag had nothing to do with GAM or separatist ideas. The province has witnessed eight years of positive change since the end of the war, Muzakir said. Local residents have no interest in fighting for independence, he explained.
“The military, under Iskandar Muda Military Command [Kodam], started to win the people’s hearts with public works projects like roads and facilities in some villages,” Muzakir, former GAM top military commander, said.
Political disputes like this, he added, are just a sign of a dynamic democracy.[]
Aceh GAM Flag Stripped From Lhokseumawe in Pre-Dawn Crackdown Aceh GAM Flag Stripped From Lhokseumawe in Pre-Dawn Crackdown Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on August 02, 2013 Rating: 5

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