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Kato still in command of MILF splinter group, says aide

Ameril Umbra Kato, right, the commander of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the breakaway faction of the largest Filipino Muslim rebel group, leads his men in prayers inside his rebel stronghold in Maguindanao Tuesday. AP

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Moro rebel leader Ameril Umbra Kato might be ill but he remains in control of the  group he had founded in 2010, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, one of his aides said Wednesday.

Abu Misri Mama, BIFM spokesperson, said Kato remains at the helm of the splinter rebel movement even though he suffered a stroke late last year.

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“Despite Kato’s health condition, he is still very much in command,” Mama said.

Kato, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander in Maguindanao, was reportedly too weak to lead the BIFM and its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters.

The MILF claimed he had sought treatment in a Cebu hospital while the military said a Kato deputy was  now calling the shots in the BIFM.

The military’s assessment came in the wake of attacks led by BIFF forces in at least five Maguindanao towns starting August 5, in which seven soldiers and five civilians were killed. The military claims scores of rebels were killed but rebel casualties could not be independently ascertained.

Mama accused the MILF for “circulating unverified statements” on Kato’s alleged treatment in Cebu, courtesy of an unnamed Maguindanao politician.

“If he was in Cebu for medical treatment, he could have already been arrested. This is nothing but a hoax,” Mama said, citing various warrants and a bounty of P10 million for his arrest.

But Colonel Prudencio Asto, speaking for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, maintained that the authorities had confirmed that “Kato is out” and that his deputy, Mohammad Ali Tambaco, “has taken over.”

But unlike the MILF, Asto said, the military believes that Kato remains in Maguindanao and is being taken care of by his followers.

He said the hunt was continuing for the ailing BIFM leader and his followers for alleged atrocities they have committed in Maguindanao, including the weeklong attacks that started August 5.

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TAGS: Ameril Umbra Kato, Armed conflict, MILF, Mindanao
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