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Southeast Asia
MILF splitter threatens jihad
2011-08-21
A radical guerrilla commander said he had split from the largest Muslim militant group and formed his own with hundreds of fighters to wage a war for a separate homeland.

In a cellphone interview from his jungle hide-out in Maguindanao, Ameril Umbra Kato said that he would not return to the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has opened negotiations with the government and threatened to expel him after he led a mutiny in December. Kato also denied accusations that he has links with al-Qaida.

He said his new group would be called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front. Its guerrilla wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was organized in January, a month after he broke off from the MILF.

Kato, estimated to have 200 to 300 fighters by his former comrades, did not give many details about his combat force or say what he would do next. Kato, who is in his late 60s, said he left because his former group chose to "waste time" negotiating with the government instead of waging a battle for an independent Muslim homeland.

"We've been going around and around wasting money and look where the peace talks have brought us. The roots of the conflict have not been solved," Kato said.

MILF spokesman Von Al Haq expressed relief that Kato finally had declared he wanted to lead his own organization but warned "he will be accountable for his actions, which will no longer have any bearing on the MILF."

Al Haq said, "It's a process of elimination. At the end of the day, all those who couldn't hold firm on our basic principles fall on the wayside."

The main guerrilla force now led by Murad Ebrahim split in 1978 from the Moro National Liberation Front, which dropped its bid for secession and signed a peace accord with Manila in 1996. Murad's group dropped its bid for independence last year but demanded a more powerful type of autonomy with greater control over more territory.

Murad's group said Kato resigned in December, citing his age and poor health. But Kato then formed a breakaway group and accused Murad's group of betraying the Muslim cause by seeking autonomy instead of independence.

Kato said, "They did that without consulting the Muslims. They cheated."
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Southeast Asia
Renegade Philippine guerrilla commander forms new group
2011-08-19
MANILA, Philippines: A renegade commander said Thursday he has split from the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group and formed a new group with hundreds of fighters to wage a war for a separate homeland.

Ameril Umbra Kato said in a cellphone interview from his jungle hide-out in southern Maguindanao province that he would not return to the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has threatened to expel him after he led a mutiny in December.

Kato denied allegations by Philippine security officials that he has links with Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the country’s volatile south and was involved in deadly bombings and terrorist attacks.

He said his new group would be known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front (BIFF). Its guerrilla wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was organized in January, a month after he broke off from the main Muslim guerrilla force over differences with insurgent leaders.

“This is the true jihad, the true revolution,” Kato said.

Kato, who has about 200 to 300 fighters according to his former comrades, did not give details about his combat force or say what next steps he would take.

Kato, who is in his late 60s, said he left because his former group chose to “waste time” by deciding to negotiate with the government for expanded autonomy instead of waging a battle for an independent Muslim homeland that would liberate minority Muslims from crushing poverty and neglect.

“We’ve been going around and around wasting money and look where the peace talks have brought us,” Kato said. “The roots of the conflict have not been solved.”

The infighting within the main 11,000-strong rebel force underscores the complexity of the Muslim unrest that has claimed more than 120,000 lives and stunted growth in the impoverished but resource-rich south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.

The main guerrilla force currently led by Murad Ebrahim split in 1978 from the former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which dropped its secessionist bid for autonomy and signed a landmark peace accord with Manila in 1996. Murad’s group dropped its bid for independence last year but demanded a more powerful type of autonomy with greater control over wider territory.

Murad’s group said Kato, who used to head one of its largest and most battle-tested commands, resigned last December, citing his age and poor health. But Kato then formed a breakaway group and accused Murad’s group of betraying the Muslim cause by going for autonomy instead of independence.

“They did that without consulting the Muslims. They cheated,” Kato said.

Philippine officials have expressed concern over the infighting, which they say casts doubts about the main rebel group’s ability to enforce any future accord in peace talks brokered by Malaysia.

Philippine security officials have accused Kato in the past of providing refuge to members of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group and Filipino militants like Usman Basit who have been sought by US and Philippine authorities in connection with deadly bomb attacks.

“They have stained my names with all these allegations of bombing malls and bus terminals,” Kato said. “These are all big sins and un-Islamic. I have no contact with Al-Qaeda.”

“Who are the real terrorists?” he asked. “They are government troops who drop bombs anywhere even if there are civilians.”
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