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Kato camp allegedly off-limits to visitors

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the new group that Ameril Umra Kato had founded after breaking away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has allegedly shut down its camp in Maguindanao to visitors.

The Inquirer found this out when it tried to visit the camp to see the BIFF leader amid the group’s continued denial of persistent reports he had died weeks ago.

The visit was aimed at establishing the truth about Kato’s state of health.

A messenger, who met the Inquirer at a village preceding Kato’s camp, had relayed a message that nobody–not even reporters–would be allowed in until further notice as the camp, renamed Camp Alfaro, had been declared by BIFF officials off-limits to visitors.

When the Inquirer offered a camera so that a photograph of Kato could be taken by anyone he could trust, the messenger said in Maguindanaon: “Believe me, he is alive but he may not be around here these days. The camp is close even to some members of (the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement and BIFF).”

The messenger could not say why Kato’s group made the decision.

The MILF had said it was certain that Kato had died because the information came from the BIFM leader’s first wife, who took care of him in Toril in Davao City.

Also, BIFM forces and Kato’s family held a kanduli (food offering and prayers) for his death last week, the MILF said.

Sheikh Muheideen Anembang, BIFM vice chair, said reports on Kato’s death were false and that the MILF should stop spreading it.

“Just wait and he will one day resurface to speak to the public about his true condition,” he earlier told the Inquirer by text.

Anembang said the kanduli that the MILF was referring to was a form of thanksgiving for the Islamic New Year.

The Hijrah calendar starts with Muharram, one of the four months that Muslims consider to be holy.

For some Muslims, the first day of Muharram calls for fasting but for the majority, it is a day for celebration.

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