Kato: Meeting with Aquino ‘surrender’
MAGUINDANAO—A renegade Moro rebel leader briefly emerged from hiding yesterday to condemn what he said was his previous comrades’ surrender of the Bangsamoro people’s aspiration for independence.
Ameril Umbra Kato, now head of the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Fighters, said he quit the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in January because of differences with MILF leaders over whether Moro rebels should stick to secession or accept an increased degree of autonomy.
Kato, who is wanted for a series of attacks on civilian communities, met with journalists in his enclave in Maguindanao on Tuesday, accusing Murad Ebrahim, chair of the MILF, of failing to consult the Bangsamoro people on his meeting with President Aquino in Tokyo.
“In an organization, a leader is supposed to consult his members first before coming up with a decision. In this case, he made a decision all by himself,” said Kato.
Murad’s meeting with Mr. Aquino, said Kato, was an act of “surrender.”
He said the MILF was falling for a trick “because the President himself knows that it is impossible for the government to give in to the demand of the MILF for a substate” without a new Constitution.
Mohaguer Iqbal, chief MILF negotiator, said he wasn’t giving much weight to Kato’s comments.
Iqbal said the MILF views the meeting between Murad and Mr. Aquino in Tokyo “in a positive light.” “Good will, not bad will,” said Iqbal.
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao People’s Caucus, said Kato’s statements were expected. “In the search for peace, you really cannot please anyone,” she said.
Iqbal said the MILF will soon come up with a decision on how to deal with Kato probably before the opening of formal peace talks with the government on Aug. 22 in Kuala Lumpur.
Government negotiators have repeatedly asked MILF panel members how the rebel group would handle Kato.
“We will face the issue squarely … we will confront the issue. A real decision on Kato will come at the right time … and we will do that,” said Iqbal.
Malacañang yesterday acknowledged the possibility of government having to deal with another armed group even after it seals a deal with the MILF.
Edwin Lacierda, Palace spokesperson, however, said Malacañang believed Kato’s group doesn’t present a threat to the peace talks.
When the two panels meet on Aug. 22, according to Lacierda, among the issues that would be discussed was how to deal with Kato.
“Does it mean that we can go after them, we can go after Umbra Kato? Those kinds of questions. Those need to be addressed,” said Lacierda.
He said the government focus is on how to bring a peaceful end to the Moro rebellion in Mindanao.
“We’d rather exert our efforts on peace rather than exert our efforts on war,” he said.
Lacierda, however, supported views that Kato’s group won’t be an obstacle to the peace talks because it was not as big as the main MILF group.
“The forces of Umbra Kato are not big,” Lacierda said. Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao and Norman Bordadora in Manila
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