Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Army vows to stop Kato group, secure communities

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Army is ready to thwart any kidnapping attempt and other criminal acts by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) to sabotage the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an official said yesterday. Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said they are prepared to secure the public from the atrocities of the BIFM, a breakaway group of the MILF led by Ameril Umbra Kato. “Our soldiers, in cooperation with the local police and even the peaceful citizens in Maguindanao, are ready to defend the communities from harm in case the BIFM insists on using violence to advance its interests,” Cabunoc said in a text message. Earlier reports said the BIFM plans to kidnap foreign workers of donor agencies and humanitarian groups operating in Central Mindanao. Cabunoc said the BIFM rebels should talk peace with the government and stop conducting illegal activities. “They (BIFM members) must emulate their brothers in the MILF who have opted to forge peace with the government…We had opened the doors of reconciliation to the BIFM and asked them to give peace a chance,” he added. Brig. Gen. Gilberto Jose Roa, chairman of the government ceasefire panel, advised the public to avoid remote areas until the threat from the BIFM has been addressed. He said he has written the government and MILF peace panels about the rebels’ plan. The BIFM broke away from the MILF after the latter pursued the peace talks with the government. It has been demanding for a separate Islamic state while the MILF has been pushing for a sub-state that will still be part of the Philippines. Last August, BIFM bandits staged bloody attacks in various parts of Maguindanao, which left some 50 BIFM rebels dead and 25,000 civilians displaced. Meanwhile, the Marines assured the MILF yesterday that their security patrols in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat were aimed at stopping illegal logging and not to flush out MILF forces. The MILF’s website, www.luwaran.com, said Marine combatants are already close to a government-acknowledged guerilla enclave in Barangay Napnapin in Palimbang, raising the possibility of a showdown. Brig. Gen. Alexander Balutan, commanding officer of the 1st Marine Brigade, however, said their men have no intention of provoking an encounter with MILF forces in Barangay Napnapin. “Our forces there do not pose any threat to the MILF,” he told reporters. Local officials have confirmed asking the Marines to help enforce anti-illegal logging laws in the area. – With John Unson - By Alexis Romero