MANILA, Philippines?The government?s chief negotiator has expressed ?serious concern? over the reported breakaway of a leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ahead of peace talks.
Ameril Umbra Kato?s (some reports spell it Ombra) split from the MILF, taking with him over 1,000 men, could compromise the talks between the government and the rebel group, said negotiator Marivic Leonen.
?The government views the reported resignation of a known commander of the MILF with serious concern and looks forward to a clarification from the MILF (peace) panel,? Leonen said in a statement read over government radio by Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
Lacierda said the government would clarify the status of Umbra Kato with the MILF panel at the resumption of the peace talks on Feb. 9 and 10.
?Until that time, we are careful not to take any public position on this issue that may unduly complicate the current situation,? he said.
Recently, videos of Umbra Kato have circulated in which he says that he is forming a new armed group to continue the struggle for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines.
According to reports, Umbra Kato quit the secessionist rebel group seven months ago with some 1,000 fighters.
The MILF itself began as a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after the latter forged an agreement with the government in 1996.
Leonen said the Philippine government still aims to forge a peace pact with the Muslim rebels ?within the soonest possible time,? and that Umbra Kato?s move should not distract the government from its goal of forging a ?comprehensive political settlement.?
?Suffice it to say that we are negotiating for a comprehensive political settlement within the soonest possible time. Implied in this desire is the understanding that both parties can deliver a just and lasting peace,? he said.
The two panels are set to meet on Wednesday, more than two years after the Malaysian-brokered talks broke down in 2008.
On Saturday, a top official of the MILF confirmed the group had a potentially serious rebellion in its ranks after Umbra Kato quit the rebel organization.
The military had said it still considered Umbra Kato?s group a threat.
Umbra Kato was one of the MILF commanders who broke the group?s cease-fire pact with the government in 2008 and launched deadly attacks on Christian communities in Mindanao, leaving nearly 400 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
In a statement posted on the MILF website, the group?s chair Murad Ebrahim said the main rebel organization was still trying to convince Umbra Kato not to leave.
?We are making headway to convince him to fully return to the fold of the MILF. I believe this problem can still be resolved expeditiously and soon,? the website quoted Murad as saying.
The MILF?s top leadership had sent its three most senior ?ulama? or religious leaders to talk with Umbra Kato and they had reported some ?good developments,? the website said without elaborating. TJ Burgonio; Agence France-Presse