Thursday, September 29, 2011

Philippine Moro rebels expel renegade leader in deadly attacks on civilians

MAGUINDANAO - (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 29, 2011) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has disowned a senior leader who is accused of masterminding deadly attacks in the southern island of Mindanao.

“Officially, Ameril Umra Kato is no longer a member of the MILF,” said Von Al-Haq, a rebel spokesman.

He said the MILF would come out with an official statement on the expulsion of Kato and would send a copy of this to Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the rebel group; and the Aquino government.

The MILF has given Kato until September 26 to return to its fold, but the rebel leader flatly rejected the offer. It said the ultimatum was based on the recommendation of the Ulama Council in Mindanao.

Kato has formed his own rebel group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement and vowed to fight for an independent Muslim homeland. The 60-year old rebel leader has several times criticized Ebrahim for talking peace with the Aquino government which insisted on granting wider autonomy to some four million Muslims in Mindanao.

He accused Ebrahim of abandoning their original demand for an independent state and opted instead to negotiate with Manila for a Muslim sub-state in the mineral-rich, but strife-torn southern region.

Kato is facing a string of criminal charges in connection to the series of attacks that he led after the failed signing of the Muslim homeland deal in 2008 between the MILF and the government. The Supreme Court declared the accord as unconstitutional and the aborted deal triggered a series of deadly attacks by Kato’s forces in Mindanao.

Colonel Noel dela Cruz, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said they have pinpointed Kato’s hideout in Maguindanao province, but troops cannot arrest him because he is hiding inside an MILF stronghold and feared that any assault could violate a fragile truce with the rebel group.

“We know where he’s hiding, but cannot do anything unless the MILF helps us in capturing Kato, who is wanted by authorities,” he said.

The MILF said it is willing to help in the military operation against Kato and could provide forces to block all entry and exit points around his hideout.

“The ad hoc joint action group of the MILF and government peace panels can discuss on how to go about the operation. The MILF is willing to assist the Philippine government in this operation,” Al-Haq said.

The MILF forged an agreement with Manila in 2004 that paved the way for rebel forces through the ad hoc joint action group to help government hunt down terrorists and criminal elements in areas where the rebel group is actively operating.

Just this month, Kato's forces clashed with MILF rebels in Maguindanao's Datu Piang town, leaving four people dead on both sides. The groups have previously clashed over a piece of land in the province. (Mindanao Examiner)

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