Duterte says gov’t must also talk with Moro breakaway group
DAVAO CITY, Philippines—The issue of Ameril Umra Kato, leader of the Moro breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), is a problem not just of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but of entire country, Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte told reporters here Tuesday.
“The issue on Kato is a monkey wrench unless it is resolved the same way the government did with the Moro National Liberation Front and [is doing with] the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” he said, adding the government should think about talking with Kato.
“Somebody has to try talking to Kato—from the government and from the MILF. The problem is there. We cannot stonewall on it because it is facing us. We cannot do that. It is better to talk to all,” he said.
Kato’s becoming an imminent peace and security issue in Mindanao is not at all difficult to understand, according to Duterte.
“If you remember, we were talking to the MNLF and there suddenly sprouted the MILF. We can understand. Maybe because of the disagreements in the platform, in the issues involved. Here comes another one, Kato,” he said.
Kato, a veteran Moro fighter, was former head of the MILF’s 105th Base Command in Maguindanao.
In 2008, his group engaged soldiers in a series of battles that ked to the displacement of more than 130,000 people in Central Mindanao. In Maguindanao, where he is based, some 70,000 people were also displaced.
Last year, Kato announced the formation of the BIFF “to continue the Bangsamoro ideals.”
His decision to split from the MILF was triggered by a government hunt for him for the 2008 violence encounters. He accused the MILF leadership of not standing by him
North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza said the government must ensure that any action against Kato should spare civilians.
”If you get Kato, what happens to the members of the BIFF? You have to consider everyone under Kato’s wing, to ensure that no more hostilities will happen in the area,” Mendoza said.
MILF leaders admit it is difficult to convince Kato to rejoin the MILF.
On Friday last week, another indication that Kato was moving farther from the MILF came when he announced that he had organized the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM).
The announcement came in the form of a letter he sent to MILF chair Murad Ebrahim.
“Effective immediately, we are no longer members of the MILF fold,” he said.
“Instead of MILF, we now have our new identity – the BIFM. And our forces would no longer be the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) but BIFF,” Kato said on Tuesday when the Inquirer sought him out for clarification.
But while he has officially seceded from the MILF, Kato said, “the BIFM will not be an obstacle in the on-going peace talks between the Philippine Government and the MILF.”
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