x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Philippine rebels give rogue leader final warning

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front's central committee plans to issue a resolution declaring that Ameril Umbra Kato is no longer a member unless he returns to its fold.

MANILA // The Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group has given a radical commander with hundreds of fighters a final warning to stop a mutiny or face expulsion, which would expose his breakaway force to possible military assaults.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front's central committee plans to issue a resolution declaring that Ameril Umbra Kato is no longer a member unless he returns to its fold, an unlikely prospect since he has rejected earlier calls to rejoin, the group's vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar said yesterday.

Philippine officials have expressed concern over the infighting in the 11,000-strong Moro rebel group, which they say cast doubts on its ability to enforce any future accord in peace talks brokered by Malaysia.

The guerrillas have said the uprising by Mr Kato, who used to head one of their largest and most battle-tested commands, was an internal problem they were trying to defuse and asked the military not to attack him while they tried to woo him and his armed men back.

Mr Jaafar said an expulsion would mean Mr Kato was no longer covered by preliminary agreements the rebel group forged with the government, including a truce that shields rebels from military assaults.

"Personally, I already consider him and his men a lost command," Mr Jaafar said. "When the resolution is issued very soon, he'll be officially declared outside the group, fighting without any cause."

The presidential adviser on the peace talks Teresita Deles did not comment on reports of Mr Kato's impending deposition but said government negotiators would ask guerrillas about his status when peace talks resume on August 22 in Malaysia.

Mr Kato, who is in his late 60s and leads a breakaway force of 200 to 300 fighters, resigned from the Moro rebel group last December, saying he was too old. However, he later formed a rebel faction called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters that refused to recognise the rebel leadership, Mr Jaafar said.

Mr Kato has also opposed the main rebel group's peace talks with the government and called for jihad, or holy war, to establish a separate Muslim state.

* Associated Press