ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Hardline terrorist defiant in Philippines
Surrounded by a small band of ragtag but ruthless followers, hardline Muslim rebel commander Ameril Umbra Kato vows to destroy the latest peace efforts in troubled southern Philippines.
Decades of fighting have neither wearied nor diluted the resolve of the Saudi Arabian-educated guerrilla, and he warns that he remains willing to kill and die in his quest to achieve an independent Muslim homeland in resource-rich Mindanao.
“We will not surrender. We will continue the fight for liberation,” Kato told a small group of journalists in Camp Omar, the base of his newly formed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, on Sunday.
He declared this month that he had split from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the nation’s biggest Muslim rebel group, because it had entered into peace talks with the government and abandoned its independence aspirations.
The MILF leadership and the government have expressed hopes that a peace deal can be achieved over the next few years to finally end a conflict that has claimed about 150,000 lives since the 1970s.
But Kato said that it was God’s will that the southern third of mostly Roman Catholic Philippines become an independent Muslim homeland and he angrily denounced the MILF’s willingness to accept some form of autonomy.
“The peace talks are a waste of effort, waste of time and waste of money,” Kato said, to shouts of Allah is Great from his followers.
At his camp—a grassy mountainous area on the outskirts of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao province, reachable by several hours’ hike on a muddy trail—some of his followers at first glance appear more like farmhands than insurgents.
A few of the roughly 200 who had gathered for a show of force in front of the media were barefoot, while others asked the journalists whether they had brought spare food.
Most appeared to be very young men, third generation fighters drafted by their fathers and grandfathers who had also fought in the rebellion and have long-standing ties to Kato—who says that he is 65 years old.
While little is known about him, military intelligence officials confirmed France- his account of studying at a Saudi Arabian Islamic university in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
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