Monday, October 8, 2012

Government ceasefire head warns of Kato group's kidnap plot

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The chairman of the government’s ceasefire committee has warned of a plot by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) led by Ameril Umbra Kato to kidnap foreign workers of international donor agencies and humanitarian groups operating in Central Mindanao. In an e-mailed statement, Brig. Gen. Gilberto Jose Roa, chairman of the government ceasefire panel, said he has informed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of persistent reports on such a plan by the BIFF, as relayed by intelligence sources and confidential civilian informants. Roa said he has, in fact, written the government and MILF peace panels about the BIFF’s reported plan to carry out kidnappings. The government and MILF panels, through the joint ceasefire committee, are helping each other address security concerns in areas covered by the 1997 Agreement of General Cessation of Hostilities. More than 20,000 villagers were dislocated in violent attacks by the BIFF in five Maguindanao towns last August. The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group has filed charges of multiple murder, frustrated murder, robbery and arson against more than a hundred BIFF members and their leaders, including Kato and spokesman Abu Misry Mama, in connection with the attacks. Roa said the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which has jurisdiction over the adjoining provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato where there are BIFF fighters, had uncovered a plot by the BIFF to sabotage the government-MILF talks. President Aquino announced yesterday that the government has reached a preliminary peace agreement with the MILF. The MILF disowned the BIFF last August and even declared the group “open game” to the police and the military following its attacks. Part of the BIFF’s ploy, according to intelligence reports fed by the 6th ID to the government’s ceasefire committee, was to derail the peace talks by seizing foreign nationals engaged in various humanitarian projects in remote areas. “In this regard, we enjoin everyone to avoid (these) areas in the meantime until (the) threat from the BIFF has been removed,” Roa said in his statement. Roa said copies of his statement have been distributed to offices of international organizations and foreign embassies engaged in various projects in Central Mindanao. - By John Unson