Sona 2015 Sona 2015 Sona 2015

MILF renegade worries Palace

SHARES:

12:44 AM August 20th, 2011

Recommended
August 20th, 2011 12:44 AM

Ameril Umbra Kato, seated, the commander of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the breakaway faction of the largest Filipino Muslim rebel group, is interviewed by the media inside his rebel stronghold in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines. AP/Nickee Butlangan

Malacañang sees the breakaway of a hard-line commander from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a cause for concern if this is officially confirmed by the Muslim rebel group during the peace talks on August 22.

Ameril Umbra Kato, blamed for some of the country’s deadliest attacks in recent years, has formed his own group with hundreds of fighters to wage a war for a separate homeland.

“If we receive official communication from the MILF, it would be a cause for concern for us,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

The MILF said Kato had gone rogue because he opposed peace talks with the government.

“Until he returns to the fold, he is considered a lost command,” MILF vice chair Ghazali Jaafar said. “He (Kato) wants us to stop the negotiations saying it is going nowhere.”

KL talks

The government and the MILF would sit down for formal peace negotiations in Kuala Lumpur on August 22.

“And, of course, that will be raised again with the MILF,” Lacierda said in yesterday’s news briefing in Malacañang.

Kato acted up after President Benigno Aquino personally met with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, where they agreed to forge a peace agreement under the present administration.

Malacañang earlier acknowledged the possibility of the government having to deal with another armed group even if it reaches an agreement with the MILF after the group declared the forces of Kato a lost command.

But Lacierda has downplayed the threat posed by Kato saying the forces under his command “is not big” compared to those of other MILF commanders.

Asked earlier if the government is concerned that the country might have to deal with another Moro rebel group after it reached an agreement with the MILF, Lacierda said, “That is a possibility but again that will be discussed in the August 22 meeting.”

Lost command

“I think that should be resolved. That will be tackled with (GPH peace panel chair) Marvic Leonen. Again those are the concerns. What are the implications or consequences of being considered a lost command,” Lacierda said.

“Does it mean that we can go after them, we can go after Umbra Kato? Those kinds of questions. Those need to be addressed so that it will be clear and therefore avoid a situation where they will be accusing the AFP of moving on its own without informing the MILF,” he added.

He said the government expects the MILF to address their internal issue with Kato.

Kato organized his new group last year after giving up his command of a major MILF unit on health grounds, and has ignored repeated pleas to return to the fold, Jaafar said.

“He wants independence, which is contrary to the position of the MILF—which is strong local autonomy,” Jaafar said.

Signaling he remained a dangerous force, Kato’s breakaway group clashed with MILF soldiers in rural villages this month, leaving 16 people dead and forcing 3,000 civilians from their homes.

2008 attacks

Kato also led Mindanao-wide attacks by hard-line MILF factions in 2008 after the Supreme Court outlawed a draft peace deal that would have given the organization control over vast areas of the south.

About 400 people died and 750,000 were forced from their homes in that conflict.

Nevertheless, Jaafar insisted Kato’s group was an “insignificant force.”

He said the breakaway group should not affect peace talks, but the MILF would brief the government about the developments in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

Kato said he left because his former group chose to “waste time” by deciding to negotiate with the government for expanded autonomy instead of waging a battle for an independent Muslim homeland that would liberate minority Muslims from crushing poverty and neglect.

“We’ve been going around and around wasting money and look where the peace talks have brought us,” Kato said. “The roots of the conflict have not been solved.”

But MILF spokesperson warned Kato that “he will be accountable for his actions, which will no longer have any bearing on the MILF.”

“It’s a process of elimination,” Al Haq said. “At the end of the day, all those who couldn’t hold firm on our basic principles fall on the wayside.” With reports from AFP, AP

FOLLOW INQUIRER ON:
Disclaimer: Comments do not represent the views of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments which are inconsistent with our editorial standards. FULL DISCLAIMER
TAGS:
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.