MILF: Kato a non-issue PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2011 17:23

The central leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has brushed aside as “insignificant and a non-issue” the saber-rattling by renegade jihadist Ameril Ombra Kato.

Kato, erstwhile chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, now boasts of his self-styled Bangasamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, which has lately been noisy about its demand for Moro independence, not just a sub-state for Mindanao’s indigenous Muslim communities as envisioned by his former group.

“The threats of the BIFM do not concern the central committee of the MILF. Kato’s group is not an issue. His group is insignificant to us,” said rebel chieftain Al-Haj Murad, during a press conference early this week in Camp Darapapan in nearby Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

Murad, who became MILF chairman following the demise of its founder, Egyptian-trained cleric Salamat Hashim in 2003, said they ready to accept Kato if he will disband his BIFM and renew his allegiance with the front.

“The MILF’s door is still wide open for him and his group. They can come back and follow the path of the peace process,” Murad said.
Kato first hogged the headlines when he led bloody attacks in North Cotabato and Maguindanao after the aborted Aug. 5, 2008 crafting by the government and MILF of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain, the supposed basis for the creation of a Moro homeland in the South.

It was late last year when Kato, apparently irked by his having been relieved of his being chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, announced he has bolted and activated his own group to fight for Moro independence.

The MILF, until now, has not declared it is no longer in control of Kato, which the government’s peace panel has apparently been anticipating.
The government’s chief negotiator, Marvic Leonen, announced here last week that as far as the government is concerned, it no longer consider Kato as a member of the MILF.

Leonen said Kato, being a non-MILF member, is no longer covered by the ceasefire.
High alert

Armored combat vehicles and soldiers have been so visible since yesterday along stretches of a highway traversing Maguindanao towns inside the MILF’s Camp Omar where Kato and his men are holding out.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division was quick to downplay apprehensions of a possible military offensive against Kato and his follower.
“There was a recent spate of roadside bombings in inn Maguindanao and nearby provinces to we have to initiate pre-emptive actions to prevent a repeat of those bombings,” said Col. Prudencio Asto, 6th ID’s spokesman.

Local officials in the adjoining Maguindanao towns of Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi, Shariff Aguak, Datu Hofer and Guindulungan said they have reason to be apprehensive of possible bombings along the highway now that foreign-trained bomber Basit Usman has joined BIFM.

Usman, said to have undergone training in fabrication of improvised explosive devices in Peshawar, Pakistan and in Kandahar, Afganistan in late 1990s, was tagged as mastermind in some 20 deadly bombings of buses, public terminals and commercial establishments in Central Mindanao from 2003 to 2009.

Army and police intelligence sources said Usman is now the logistics officer of the radical BIFM, whose leader, Kato, is a preacher who studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia during the late 1970s.

The commander of 6th ID, Brig. Gen. Rey Ardo, said they have not received yet any directive from their higher headquarters to launch an offensive against the BIFM.
Ardo said he is optimistic the MILF can address what is now for the 6th ID the “Kato problem.”

Ardo said it is up for the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee to agree on how to go about with Kato and his followers, in keeping with the provisions of the ceasefire, which enjoins both sides to mutually cooperate in the interdiction of criminals and terrorists in flashpoint areas in Mindanao.
Kato’s threat

Apprehensive of its possible repercussions, the MILF chided Kato for threatening to engage US servicemen involved in joint humanitarian projects with local military units if they stray into areas where his group operates.

The US government, through the United States Agency for International Development, has dozens of costly socio-economic projects in areas covered by the 1997 government-MILF general agreement on cessation of hostilities.

Khaled Musa, who is the MILF’s deputy information chief, said Kato apparently wants to gain “media mileage” in his recent warning that US servicemen involved in local community-relations projects under the “Balance Piston 11-3,” which was launched last week at the Philippine Army’s nearby Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

Ardo, said his subordinate-soldiers and their foreign counterparts involved in the project are to focus only on humanitarian activities and life-saving and basic security drills and and not on combat maneuvers.

“There have been many projects like this between the 6th ID, as a Philippine government security outfit, and the US Armed Forces. Many impoverished communities in Maguindanao and North Cotabato benefitted from the previous joint Philippine-US humanitarian exercises,” Ardo said.

Musa, in an emailed statement, said Kato’s threats to  target US servicemen has far reaching effects.

Musa said Kato did must not have thought of the deeper implications of his threat.

“Whoever dares or threatens a superpower will surely catch the attention of the media, but will surely be in serious trouble in the end,” Musa said.
Musa said Kato should “cut his appetite” for publicity by issuing statements that can affect the Southern Mindanao process.

Many local officials and peace advocates wants the military to just ignore Ustadz Ameril Ombra Kato as long as he does not embark on anything that can derail the Southern peace process for him not to rise as someone worth being paid attention, just the way he wants to become before the public and the government.
There are local executives who are apprehensive of Kato gaining undue popularity with what is for them “unnecessary reference” to his BIFM.

A priest, who requested anonymity, said Kato obviously wants publicity and he has been getting it now through his saber-rattling and his threats to attack security forces and even US servicemen involved in supposedly non-combat, community relations projects in towns under the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

“Para na siyang naging instant celebrity. Naka-gain ng popularity dahil binigyan natin siya ng attention,” seconded a Muslim preacher, Ustadz Omarshariff, of Datu Odin Sinsuat town.

The MILF, where Kato originally belong, has, until now, surprisingly not declared Kato as no longer its member and, thus, is not protected by the ceasefire anymore.
The MILF central committee branded Kato in a resolution last month only as a bughaat, an Arabic word for either renegade, or recalcitrant, or disobedient. — Felix Ostrea