Raps vs MILF leader may affect talks

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) yesterday cautioned the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police against pressing charges against one of its commanders for the skirmishes in North Cotabato since last weekend.

In interview over dzXL radio, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said pushing charges against Commander Ameril Umbra Kato may hamper peace efforts between government and the MILF.

“I hope they won’t do that. It may hamper the peace process,” Jaafar said.

On Tuesday, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered government forces to clear villages in North Cotabato of MILF “breakaway” forces within 24 hours.

For his part, Philippine National Police chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr. said the government is gathering evidence against Umbra Kato for the fighting.

Malacañang said possible charges against Umbra Kato’s group include arson, destruction of plantations, looting of properties and cattle rustling.

But Jaafar said Umbra Kato “complied” with an agreement to reposition his forces last weekend.

“There should be no stumbling block to the peace process. Our objective is to offer a peaceful solution to the problem in Mindanao,” he said.

The MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) said it is standing behind Umbra Kato, whose forces engaged government troops in clashes in North Cotabato last weekend.

In a statement on the MILF website, the MILF said Kato, head of the MILF 105th Base Command, is no “renegade commander.”

“We will stand by him in any eventuality,” it said, after both political and military leaders of the government tagged Kato as a renegade commander.

A senior officer of the BIAF said on the MILF website that Kato and his men had complied with the terms in a joint resolution dated Aug. 1.

That resolution aimed to bring back normalcy to the embattled areas of Aleosan and Midsayap through ceasefire, peace and development measures.

“If the object of the current military offensive is Kato and his men, why are other MILF forces in Pikit, Aleosan, Linumgan, and Pigkawayan also targeted?” he asked.

Last Aug. 7, the government-MILF Coordinating Committees for the Cessation of Hostilities and International Monitoring Team agreed to the repositioning of MILF troops and civilian-military organizations and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units, and government forces from the villages in Aleosan.