Army official says MILF’s Kato ‘moving around, retaking old camps’

ALABEL, Sarangani (MindaNews/05 March) — An Army battalion commander here has aired concern over the movement of heavily armed Moro guerrillas in the western part of the province that borders Maguindanao, the area of operation of a Moro Islamic Liberation Front base commander who was reported to have formed a separate group.

Major Adolfo Espuelas Jr. of the 73rd Infantry Battalion said here on February 28 that guerrillas of the MILF’s 105th Base Command were observed to have been moving around a lot and “retaking over their two old camps”.

“They are also brandishing their RPGs [rocket-propelled grenade] in the communities,” he said.

MILF forces under Ameril Umbra Kato have presence in the southern coastal towns of Maasim, Kimba and Maitum, Espuelas said.

Kato was one of three MILF commanders who figured in clashes with the military in 2008, shortly after peace talks between the government and the MILF bogged down when the Supreme Court ruled that the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was unconstitutional.

Kato also formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Fighting Force, in the middle of 2010, apparently to express his dismay over the investigation conducted on him by the MILF Central Committee, and to preempt his transfer to a non-military assignment.

The MILF confirmed the formation of the BIFF and said it was conducting “constant communication with Kato”.

“This is an internal matter for the MILF and I assure that the situation is manageable,” said Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the MILF.

Espuelas did not disclose in his speech at the installation here of the all-women contingent to the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team that the Moro guerrillas have already “returned to their old camps”, although he told MindaNews about it.

“These are camps that are not registered [in the official list],” he said. Unlike other MILF camps that function both as military camps and residential enclaves, “these two camps are military camps because they have established positions there”.

“Right now, though, they have brought their wives and families and they have started to build residencies. But these have running trenches,” he said.

In the other areas, MILF guerrillas moved around with their rifle arms and heavy weapons “and it appears that this was intended to scare the residents in order to force them to pay taxes to them”.

“We see this as a violation of the ceasefire and a hostile act and we are concerned about this,” he said.

The matters were already reported to the government’s Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities but Espuelas said that “they (MILF) stopped doing them for a while and now they have done it again”. (MindaNews)

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