Leonen: “for now we will hold MILF to their representations re Kato “

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 February) –  The government peace panel  will hold the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to their representations that  Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, former commander of the 105th Base Command,  has committed to respect the ceasefire and not commit any act of aggression, government peace panel chair Marvic  Leonen  said.

“For now, we will hold the MILF to their representations regarding Umbra Kato and his men. However, I am also informed that our military and police forces maintain the usual state of defensive readiness keeping in mind the primacy of the peace process,” Leonen said in a press statement.

He also urged the media to “deal with this delicate situation by reporting events on the ground accurately and objectively, careful not to jump to conclusions until data is fully validated.”

Leonen also asked civil society “to take a clear and strong position on this issue” because the MILF “should also be made accountable for its structure, organization and actions.” (see separate story).

He told MindaNews that the MILF peace panel informed them during the two-day formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur that the religious leaders-emissaries they sent to Kato reported that “Kato is still part of the MILF and that he has committed not to violate the ceasefire agreement.”

Leonen said his panel put on the table their “serious concerns” about Kato and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that he had reportedly set up, “as well as its implication to the ceasefire and the negotiations in general.”

“The MILF took in our difficult and probing questions even though some of it related to their own tactics and strategies.  This to us underscores their understanding of how serious this issue is for both sides. They have assured us that communication between the leadership of the MILF and Ustadz Umbra Kato is ongoing. One of the details of the agreements between them is that Umbra Kato has committed to respecting the ceasefire and not to commit any act of aggression,” he said.

Leonen told a press conference in Quezon City on February 7, that they received reports about Kato setting up the BIFF and “have  monitored this development for the past months.” He said they “raised this as a concern with the MILF panel during our informal talks” on January 13.

In his opening statement at the exploratory talks on February 9, Iqbal admitted that the MILF has problems and Kato “is one of those problems” but added that the MILF leadership is “still hopeful that we can manage and solve this problem; otherwise, we will tell the government, the facilitator, and the international community that he has already burned his bridges with the MILF,  he is not one of us, he is not with the MILF.”
“To be frank with all of you here, Kato is indeed a problem,” said Iqbal. But he added: “if we are truthful to ourselves and to the facts surrounding why he had been a problem is because of the betrayal of the previous administration (not its peace panel) in not signing the Memorandum of Agreement of Ancestral Domain on August 5, 2008.“

Earlier, Iqbal told MinadNews that Kato “resigned as commander of the 105th, formed the BIFF” which he described as 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.
Iqbal said Kato was later reassigned to Dawa’h, a religious unit of the MILF Central Committee.

He explained that 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.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in a press conference on February 5 in the MILF camp in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, said he was “full of hope” that talks “will lead towards the forging of a comprehensive compact agreement.”

He told reporters the MILF had reached out to Kato. “

“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.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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