MILF seals deal with Umbra Kato's group

Posted at 09/08/2012 2:13 AM

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has entered into an agreement with the bandit gang of Ameril Umra Kato for them to stop their lawless activities.

Speaking to reporters, MILF spokesman Von Al-Haq said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) has pledged to stop attacks on military positions and farming villages in Maguindanao and surrounding provinces.

Kato has reportedly lost control of the BIFM after he suffered a stroke.

Close to 30,000 people were forced to relocate to squalid evacuation centers when BIFM bandits attacked five Maguindanao towns: Guindulungan, Datu Saudi, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan.

The bandits attacked military positions, plundered villages and harassed evacuees in relief sites starting midnight of Aug. 5 until Aug. 11.

Al-Haq said the MILF central committee decided to strike a deal with Kato’s gang to prevent them from causing cracks in the cordiality of the government-MILF talks.

The MILF fears the attacks might imperil its 1997 ceasefire agreement with the government, he added.

However, Al-Haq said the deal will not tactically ally the MILF with the BIFM or allow the bandits to use rebel strongholds that the ceasefire agreement recognizes as sanctuaries.

The MILF is optimistic the BIFM will abide by its commitment to end the attacks, he added.

Meanwhile, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division remained on heightened alert despite the BIFM’s assurance to the MILF that it will restrain its forces roaming around in isolated areas in the second district of Maguindanao.

Col. Prudencio Asto, 6th ID public affairs chief, said secluded stretches of the Cotabato-General Santos Highway in five Maguindanao towns that the bandits blocked last month will remain off limits to motorists from dusk to dawn.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, provincial peace and order council chairman, said he was elated that the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group has filed criminal charges against Kato and dozens of his followers.

“I’m optimistic that warrants for their arrest would be out soon,” he said. “The hunt for these bandits can continue with legal shield.”

Charges of multiple murder, frustrated murder, robbery and arson have been filed against Kato and his lieutenants, Mohammad Ali Tambako, Badrudin Silongan, Kagui Karialan, and their spokesman, Abu Misry Mama before the Maguindanao prosecutor’s office.

Also named as accomplices in the charge sheet were members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the military arm of the BIFM.

Mangudadatu said he is ready to shell out earnest money in exchange for any information that would hasten the police and military’s efforts to locate the whereabouts of the BIFM’s leadership.

“There should be an honest-to-goodness assessment first of the situation on the ground. We cannot take chances,” he said.

“We don’t want evacuees to return if the situation does not warrant. Everything is being done now by the provincial government to restore normalcy in these troubled areas.”