Hasten peace process to avoid another ‘Kato’, MILF leader urges

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KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/29 August) –The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reiterated the need to fast-track the forging of a final peace agreement to avoid the resurgence of internal cracks like the case of renegade commander Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato, a senior rebel official said on Monday.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, also warned that a prolonged amity talks could also create cracks even the in the ranks of the government, apparently referring to “hawkish elements” that could derail the peace process.

“The really logical thing to do between the MILF and the government is to fast-track the peace negotiations to avoid unnecessary internal cracks,” he said in a local radio interview.

Jaafar made the appeal in reaction to the government’s intention to run after Kato, whom the MILF expelled from its ranks after determining him as a “bughaat,” an Arabic term for someone who defies a higher authority.

Marvic Leonen, government chief peace negotiator, earlier said that since Kato is no longer an MILF member, the country’s legal mechanism now applies to him.

Kato, who formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has been blamed for the hostilities in Southwestern Mindanao in 2008 following the botched signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional. Reports placed the number of people displaced by the hostilities in the region at around 600,000.

For her part, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, said that government troops have been restrained from neutralizing the threat of Kato and his men as they are within the MILF territory in Camp Omar in Maguindanao province.

At the resumption of formal peace talks last week in Kuala Lumpur, Deles stressed that the government views the Kato issue with serious concern as it could have a tremendous impact on the negotiations.

Jaafar said that military actions of the government against Kato within rebel strongholds would violate the existing ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

He said the Central Committee was still undecided on whether to allow or not the government to launch military offensives against Kato inside rebel bailiwicks.

Jaafar said that while Kato was expelled from the rolls of the MILF, efforts to lure him back to the group were going on, noting the renegade commander became frustrated over how the peace negotiations have dragged for 14 years now.

Meanwhile, Deles said in a statement over the weekend that “now is the time to seize the opportunity to put closure to the problem of armed conflicts affecting the nation.”

“We are so left behind by all the other countries; it’s time to find resolution because there’s still the next generation. If we cannot gather that hope and faith, then we will lose it for our children,” she said during the 3rd Mindanao Bishops – Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) Conference held recently at the Tanghalang Michael Clark in Notre Dame University in Cotabato City.

“People are aware how we are left behind in our region– not because we do not have talented people, not because we do not have natural resources for development, but because we have been—among ourselves–difficult and untrusting of each other,” Deles added.

Referring to the negotiations with the MILF, Deles emphasized that the “prospects for peace has never been this good” as the present administration has placed the agenda of peace and development high on its radar.

“The reason for hope in the prospects of winning peace is because of the political climate and the new political leadership,” she stated.

She pointed out that the present leadership has sincerity and strong commitment “to find a cohesive, democratic, just and implementable answer to the Bangsamoro question that has confounded our Republic in the last 60 years.”

She also underlined that the present administration is “daring in its ambition” to end all armed conflicts in the country within its term. “We have to be brave and bold in seeking a final resolution of all internal armed conflicts because we have to win the peace for all Filipinos.”

In pursuing the peace negotiations with the MILF, Deles stressed that the “GPH peace panel is guided by the directives of the President to conduct talks within the parameters of the Constitution, inclusive of the flexibilities provided within its provisions; learning from the lessons of the past negotiations; signing an agreement which the government can implement; and exercising inclusiveness and transparency with the aim to restore full confidence and trust in the peace process.” (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)

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