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MILF not closing doors to Kato, followers

By John Unson

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COTABATO CITY, Philippines - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is still open to reconciliation if Ustadz Ameril Ombra Kato and his followers in the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters if the outlawed group decides to return to its fold and support the peace process.

MILF chief negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal announced this Saturday in the presence of Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas II and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles during the launching of the central office here of the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

Roxas and Deles were accompanied to the BTC office, along the busy Magallanes Street here, by Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and  Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman.

Iqbal said the MILF’s leadership had tried its best to convince Kato to join them again,  but failed.

“We have tried everything. Still, we haven’t cut the bridge that can link him (Kato) to the MILF,” Iqbal said.

The government’s chief negotiator, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, has urged the BIFF to join in the on-going GPH-MILF peace overture that could lead  to a lasting peace and development in the south.

Kato, a Saudi-trained Islamic theologian, began as chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but was booted out in 2010 due to insubordination and irreconcilable differences with the group’s central leadership.

Kato launched in early 2011 the BIFF, feared for banditry, and despised for its ruthlessness.  The BIFF  has also mulcted “protection money” from peasant communities.

Iqbal has also appealed to other sectors opposing the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity to support the efforts of the MILF and the government to peacefully resolve the decades-old Mindanao “Moro issue.”

“There is no other better option but support the peace process,” Iqbal said.

Roxas and Deles have assured the members of the BTC of President Aquino’s support to the creation of the Bangsamoro entity to replace the ARMM before the term of incumbent regional officials ends on June 30, 2016.

Hataman said he and his constituent-regional officials are ready to vacate their posts and turn over the ARMM government to the joint GPH-MILF Transition Authority, once Congress enacts the Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL).

The BBL will legitimize the replacement of the present autonomous region with a Bangsamoro entity.

“We are most ready to turn over everything to the Transition Authority and step down,” Hataman said.

The BTC, which is led by Iqbal, and comprised of seven representatives each from the government and the MILF, will oversee the drafting of the BBL and the transition from the ARMM to a new Bangsamoro entity.

Deles said the government forces' pursuit of the BIFF will continue even as the GPH and MILF panels are close to striking a final peace compact.

“There is no ceasefire with the BIFF,” Deles added.

Deles said the BIFF is not covered by the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

“There is no other ceasefire with any group other than that,” Deles said.

Deles and Iqbal  said the atrocities being perpetrated by the BIFF will not affect the government and MILF’s joint effort to put up a new Bangsamoro political entity.

Hataman and Mangudadatu both said they support the appeal of the OPAPP and the government’s peace panel for the BIFF to join in the peace process.

Thousands of Moro residents are still languishing in squalid evacuation sites in four towns in Maguindanao, dislocated by  Army-BIFF hostilities in the province in January.

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