MILF says decision on Kato out soon; groups urge gov’t to pursue talks with NDFP

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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/18 August)—The Central Committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front would soon come up with a decision on Ameril Umra Kato, a former commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces who has formed his own Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters over disagreements with the MILF leadership’s handling of the peace talks with the Philippine government.

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF negotiating panel, on Tuesday said they would soon come out with a definitive resolution on Kato.

Saying the government should not make a big issue out of Kato, Iqbal stressed the problem was internal to the MILF, and told representatives of civil society organizations and a few journalists that they will soon resolve the matter.

“We will face the issue squarely. A real decision on Kato will come at the right time, and we will do that,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kato, in an interview at Camp Omar in Maguindanao, accused the MILF of betraying the Bangsamoro people for meeting with President Aquino on August 4 in Tokyo, Japan without consulting them.

He construed the meeting as “surrender” by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair, to the government.

“Murad corrupted the rights of the Bangsamoro people,” Kato said, adding the MILF chair should have consulted them first before deciding to talk with the President.

But Iqbal was so positive with the meeting, and said it was done in “goodwill.”

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, said that Kato’s statement has given more reason to fast-track the peace negotiation, citing the rebel leader’s disappointment with the talks that has dragged on since 1997.

Kato had told the MPC that he was already “tired with the never ending negotiations,” A sentiment supported by Moro activists who held rallies calling for the signing of a political settlement that would end the four decades old Mindanao conflict.

Arnado, however, expressed belief that Kato’s sentiment does not reflect that of the majority Moro people. “There are those who really speak against the sentiments of the majority,” she said.

She described Kato’s statement as an “extreme reaction” similar to that of some people in government who accused President Aquino of treason for agreeing to talk with Murad in Japan.
For her part, Arnado described the Japan meeting as one that renewed confidence between the government and the MILF, one that is needed to fast-track the peace process.

She believed that both the government and the MILF knew there were “risks” in the Japan meeting, but Arnado was thankful both camps took [the risks] if only to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the conflict that has already claimed some 120,000 lives since the 70s and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Arnado, however, cautioned the public against “extremists’ statements” similar to that of Kato, which she said, could “bring us again to a war scenario”.

While Arnado believes that both the government and the MILF “are on the right track,” she also suggested that the MILF should “decisively deal with Kato.”

As this developed, two other Mindanao-based organizations called on Aquino to pursue the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The Sowing Seeds for Peace and the militant Anakbayan said they were worried that the recent exchanges of accusations of alleged insincerity between the government and the NDFP may once more stall the negotiations with the communists.

In a statement, the SSP said they were “apprehension over another looming postponement of the already rescheduled formal peace talks” between the government and the NDFP.

They called on Aquino to exercise similar political will that it had with the MILF, whose leader Ebrahim met with President Aquino in Tokyo, Japan last August 4.

“While the GPH has exercised its political will to resume negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) despite several contentious issues, it should extend the same decisiveness in the GPH-NDFP peace talks,” said the SSP statement.

Aside from SSP, the militant Anakbayan also challenged the President to pursue the peace talks which it described as “a move that would be most beneficial to the Filipino people, especially the youth.”

Cherry Orendain, Anakbayan regional spokesperson, in a statement, said: “Peace in the context of social justice must be presented. For the youth who have been exposed to the highest form of violence – hunger, poverty and exploitation—it is high time for the GPH and NDFP panels to resume peace talks and agree on the country’s socio-economic reforms.” (Romy Elusfa/MindaNews contributor)

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