Kato rebels agree to stop offensives
COTABATO CITY—Ameril Umra Kato’s group on Friday made a complete turnaround from its earlier vow of all-out war against the military as it announced a respite from attacks carried out by its forces in Maguindanao.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), the group that Kato founded in 2010 after bolting out of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said: “We decided to stop our offensives against the military.”
But Mama said Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) would continue to defend themselves against military offensives. “If we are attacked, naturally we will fight back,” he said during a radio interview here.
On Aug. 5, BIFF forces went on a rampage in Maguindanao and briefly controlled a portion of the Maguindanao-General Santos highway.
At least 10 soldiers and five civilians were killed in the clashes that ensued. The military claimed to have killed about 80 BIFF forces during the clashes and the subsequent manhunt it launched.
Von Al Haq, MILF spokesperson, said Kato’s group had forged an agreement with the MILF not to launch offensives anymore.
He said a meeting between MILF and BIFM officials resulted to an agreement for the BIFM’s armed wing, BIFF to stop the attacks. The meeting was also attended by Muslim religious leaders.
“We have an agreement and they are bound by it, that the BIFF will cease from launching offensives against the military for the welfare of Maguindanaons,” Al Haq said in a separate radio interview.
Mama said the BIFM was bound to abide by the local agreement.
It was not immediately known what prompted the BIFM to forge the agreement with the MILF but it was preceded by massive deployments of MILF forces near Kato’s claimed territories in Maguindanao.
The MILF decided to “pressure” Kato’s group as the clashes were already threatening the fragile peace process it was undertaking with the government.
During the military operations against Kato’s men, MILF forces nearly clashed with soldiers in Maguindanao.
Col. Prudencio Asto, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division based in the said province, said they welcomed the BIFM’s pledge.
But Asto said this would not deter the military and other authorities from pursuing Kato and his men as they were liable for the deaths of civilians and soldiers.
The police had earlier said that charges had been filed before the Maguindanao prosecutor’s office against Kato and at least 100 others for the Aug. 5 attacks.
“Those who committed crimes must answer to it,” Asto said. Edwin Fernandez with a report from Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao
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