Gov’t panel to seek clarification from MILF re Kato

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 February) – The government peace panel views with “serious concern” the reported resignation of a known commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  and “looks forward to a clarification from the MILF panel when they meet for exploratory talks on February 9 and 10 in Kuala Lumpur,  government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen,  said.

“ Until that time, we are careful not to take any public position on this issue that may unduly complicate the current situation. Suffice it to say, we are negotiating for a comprehensive political settlement within the soonest possible time. Implied in this desire is the understanding that both parties can deliver a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Leonen will hold a prèss conference at the University of the Philippines College of Law, where he is Dean, at 1:30 p.m. Monday, two days after MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and its peace panel members held a press conference in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao, where Ebrahim expressed optimism about the coming talks and where the reported resignation of  MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato was taken up, among other issues.

Kato, then head of the 105th base command of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF)  was among three commanders who mounted attacks  following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5, 2008.
The military referred to Kato, Abdullah Macapaar alias Commander Bravo and Aleem Solaiman Pangalian, and their men as LMG for “Lawless MILF Group.”

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews in a text message Sunday that Kato “resigned as commander of the 105th, formed the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Fighting Force), a separate military command but still with the MILF.”

He said Kato has a “very small” group, about a thousand “both armed and unarmed.” He said Kato has “around 100 armed” followers.

In a videotaped statement, Kato said  he was not separating from the MILF.

“I did not separate from the MILF. This is the organization that I believe in and there is no organization to spearhead the Bangsamoro struggle,” he said.

Iqbal said Kato was later reassigned to Dawa’h, a religious unit of the MILF Central Committee.
He said  the government panel also knows of the BIFF and has raised its concern but Iqbal said they have assured their counterparts that  “we can manage this issue.”

On Saturday, in the MILF camp in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Iqbal told reporters that Kato sent his letter of resignation as 105th commander “seven months ago, (saying) he is already old.”

He said Kato is 70.

“Seven months ago” is July 2010. But in May 2010,  according to an ABS-CBN Central Mindanao report, MILF vice chair for political affairs

Ghazali Jaafar announced that Kato  had been replaced by Zacaria Goma. No reason, however, was given for replacing Kato.

Iqbal said the BIFF has not made any military move against government forces during the last seven months and he does not expect the group to make any disruption during the peace talks.

Ebrahim, who said he was “full of hope” that talks “will lead towards the forging of a comprehensive compact agreement,”  said the MILF had reached out to Kato. “This is a small group only. This is internal to the MILF and we can manage it.”

“There is no new group in the MILF. The MILF has not recognized the BIFF. This is only a matter of an assertion of a separate unit in the military organization of the MILF,” Murad said.  “He (Kato) has demanded a separate group but not a separate organization outside the MILF”.
“This is an internal problem of the MILF,” he stressed. (MindaNews)

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