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Military, rebels hoping Kato's followers will return to MILF fold

Amid conflicting reports on whether breakaway rebel leader Ameril Umbra Kato is still alive or has passed away after suffering a stroke, military and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders on Monday expressed hopes that his estimated 300 to 400 followers will return to the MILF fold in order to help the peace process move forward.

A member of the MILF's negotiating panel had confirmed to journalists in a text message on Sunday that Kato had died in Toril district in Davao City. However, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar denied the report and said Kato was still alive but was paralyzed.

Kato led attacks against government forces in Mindanao in 2008 after the Supreme Court junked a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between government and the MILF. He left the rebel group in August after questioning the MILF's capability to face the government in peace negotiations, and was expelled last October.

Col. Arnulfo Burgos, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said in reaction to the reports about Kato: “Whether buhay siya o patay, tinitingnan natin dito (kung) uusad ang usapang pangkapayapaan (at) maliliwanagan ang kanyang tropa na bumalik sa mismong grupo nila. Iwasan natin ang breakaway faction dahil malaking balakid ito sa usapang pangkapayapaan."

He told DWIZ in an interview on Monday, “Ang maganda rito, (ang) kinakausap lang ng namumuno ngayon sa peace panel (ay) iisang grupo lang para madaling maresolba ang differences."

Meanwhile, MILF secretariat head Muhammad Ameen assured members of Kato’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) that they are welcome to rejoin the main rebel group.

“Whether Kato is alive or dead, the door of the MILF is still open to members of the BIFM to return to the fold of the MILF, which (is) a fully developed organization whose legitimacy is known worldwide,” Ameen said in an article posted on the MILF website.

Ameen said even if Kato survived the stroke, he will have a hard time leading his group because he will need physical strength and the necessary mental faculties to lead the BIFM.

He added that the MILF remains hopeful Kato will survive his reported illness and recuperate soon.

Conflicting reports

Kato was reported to have died on Saturday while under the care of his first wife in Toril district in Davao City.

“Now it is confirmed [that] Ameril Umbra Kato passed away in Toril..." said Michael Mastura, legal counsel of the MILF and member of the rebel group’s peace negotiating panel, in a text message to reporters. He did not elaborate and it is unclear where he obtained the information.

However, MILF official Jaafar had a different version of Kato's condition. "Confirmed na-stroke siya (Kato), na serious siya. At a time na-comatose siya pero hindi siya makapagsalita. Ganyan, na-paralyze 'yung kalahati sa katawan kaya hindi siya makakain, hindi makapagsalita," Jaafar said on Sunday.

Abu Misry, spokesman of the BIFM, also said Kato was alive and was recuperating in Guindolongan in Maguindanao. - VVP/KG/YA, GMA News
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November 28, 2011 9:30am

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