It’s final: Kato is out of MILF

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/03 October)—The central committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has approved a resolution formally expelling breakaway leader Ameril Umra Kato and his men from the group, a rebel official said Monday.

Von Al Haq, MILF spokesperson, confirmed the resolution of the Front officially dropping Kato and his men, saying he saw a copy of the resolution last Saturday signed by MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

However, no full copy of the resolution, which was adopted last September 22 and signed by Ebrahim on September 30, was made available at the rebels’ website (www.luwaran.com) which carried the story Monday.

Parts of MILF Central Committee Resolution No. 02/09 Series of 2011, according to the report, provides that if Kato and his followers make amends and be repentant, the door of the Front for them “is still wide open.”

Muhammad Ameen, chairperson of the MILF secretariat, admitted the difficulty of the MILF leadership in making this decision to declare Kato and his group as no longer members of the organization, the report said.

Ameen said that Kato was once a loyal commander of the MILF, but when the government did not sign the initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in August 2008, “he began to be problematic to us,” according to the report.

“Kato is an (in)direct creation of the government or the consequence of government insincerity in the negotiation,” Ameen was quoted as saying in the report.

For his part, Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman, said that he had already officially informed the Malaysian facilitator about the Front’s final disposition on the Kato issue contained in the MILF resolution for transmittal to Dean Marvic Leonen, head of the GPH peace panel.

“I informed my counterpart officially, as I promised during one of our meetings in Kuala Lumpur,” Iqbal was quoted as saying in the same report.

Al Haq last week said in Cotabato City that the Front’s central committee will formally release its position on Kato “very soon although this early he’s no longer with us.”

“We’ve exhausted all our efforts to reconcile with him to no avail,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, chairman of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, separately told MindaNews earlier that if Kato is officially dropped from the rolls of the MILF, the military will go after him.

“That’s because he will no longer be covered by the peace process and the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF,” he said.

But Bernardo said there would be no immediate pursuit operations unless higher authorities give the green light.

Dismayed by the slow pace of the peace process, Kato broke away from the MILF and founded the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, with its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, reportedly composed of 300 followers.

Al Haq said they have monitored that Kato has been holing up in Camp Omar, an MILF bailiwick recognized by the government, particularly in the boundary of Guindulungan and Datu Hoffer towns in Maguindanao.

The area is on higher grounds and not in the marshland, he added.

Bernardo, the government CCCH chairman, said that Kato, in the occasion that a military action is finally ordered, will be pursued under the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

It must be in coordination with each party’s CCCH panel to avoid misencounters, he added.

AHJAG is a joint government and MILF mechanism that seeks to interdict and isolate lawless elements that take refuge in or near MILF communities.

Al Haq said the MILF “is willing to pull out its troops in Camp Omar” to give way in the event that the government launches military action.

He added that MILF troops “would not directly chase” Kato, as this would be the role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but would serve as blocking forces.

The renegade commander carries a P10-million bounty for his capture and is reportedly facing at least 80 criminal cases.

Kato, then as head of the MILF’s 105th base command, waged hostilities in 2008 following the botched signing of the controversial MOA-AD.

The MOA-AD, which was eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, would have given the MILF wider political and economic powers.

The 2008 war displaced 600,000 people, the single largest internal displacement elsewhere in the world in 2008, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported.

Kato has become a key concern in the peace process between the MILF and the government under the Aquino administration.

In a press statement from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in August, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles said that government troops have been restrained from neutralizing the threat of Kato and his men as they are within the MILF territory.

At the resumption of formal peace talks then in Kuala Lumpur, Deles stressed that the government views the Kato issue with serious concern as it has a tremendous impact on the negotiations. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)

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