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Who is afraid of Kato?

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The peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government appeared to make a slow grind upon its resumption although there are positive indicators the two panels are moving towards some settlements of contentious issues. Recently, the MILF apprehended but released AFP elements. These can be seen as a healthy gesture among talking panels interested mainly to focus on the peace agenda and not wanting to be derailed by side issues.

If there is a perceptible threat to the talks it is Ameril Umbra Kato who, this early, had admitted to have organized a motley group of warriors of MILF combatants and bodyguards of former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan who is facing multiple murder charges for the mass slaughter of journalists, kin of his perceived political adversaries and motorists.

The alliance of Kato’s men and those of Ampatuan only tarnished the mainstream MILF organization. Some quarters have already sensed that it will not be long when Umbra Kato who is one of the most wanted men in the country will eventually quit from the Front. True enough, he proceeded to organize the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and by doing that blamed the MILF and the government “for not involving him in the peace talks and the ceasefire agreement”.

No wonder, Kato never ceased to go on rampage and pillage communities. But he remains wishy-washy with his identity. His body language shows he has departed from the MILF command structure but still makes the claim that he and his men are still part of the MILF. He also remains belligerent and does not hold his tongue in saying that the government's peace initiatives are insincere and only meant to cause further division amongst Muslims.  While mouthing conciliatory to Christians he warns that if they blocked by anyone from achieving our purpose, which is an independent Islamic State, then there will really be a war.”

Commander Kato has some 200 armed men who like him seek to pursue the independence agenda which the MILF have already dropped. His struggle moreover took a different turn when Ampatuan’s wanted private army joined his force. The marriage of the two forces does not augur well for the MILF. Until this splinter is not resolved, the government and the MILF may ink a peace agreement but the government will continue dealing with the armed men of Kato. That should not really be a problem provided the MILF will side with the government in dealing with Kato’s renegade forces. In Maguindanao where these forces had been roaming around, both Muslims and Christian communities have gone weary and mad over the continued harassments of these elements. Kato can continue rattling but sooner than he expects he and his men will find themselves isolated. Once the MILF and the government come to terms, Kato and his men will be deprived of sanctuary.

By Menardo Wenceslao




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