Filipino Muslim rebel faction leader falls ill

AP News
Posted: Nov 27, 2011 4:30 AM
Filipino Muslim rebel faction leader falls ill

A hard-line leader of a breakaway Muslim rebel faction who has been linked to al-Qaida-affiliated militants has fallen ill, raising doubts about the future of his 200-strong armed group in the southern Philippines, military officials and former comrades said Sunday.

Ameril Umbra Kato, thought to be in his 60s, fell unconscious for about two minutes last week while taking a break from a long hike near his jungle stronghold in Maguindanao province, said Abu Misri Mammah, a spokesman for Kato's group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement.

Kato regained consciousness, was taken to a doctor and has now recovered, but has not been seen by his men since he fell ill, Mammah told The Associated Press.

Military officials and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest Muslim rebel group, said they separately received information that Kato suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. There also have been reports that Kato has died, but they said this could not be verified.

Regional military spokesman Col. Leopoldo Galon said Kato's group has no other known strong leader and may weaken and split if he can no longer effectively lead it. Moro Islamic Liberation Front spokesman Von Al Haq said some of Kato's men may return to the Moro group.

Kato and about 200 armed followers broke off from the Moro group this year, saying that peace talks with the government have gone nowhere. Kato said his group would continue to fight for an independent homeland for minority Muslims in the south.

He also accused his former comrades of involvement in kidnappings for ransom and other crimes. The rebels deny his allegations.

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Kato and two other rebel commanders are wanted by Philippine authorities for leading deadly attacks against Christian communities after the main Moro group's peace talks with the government collapsed in 2008. Members of the main Moro group have said they would take action against Kato and his forces if he tries to disrupt their peace negotiations with the government, which have since restarted.

Philippine security officials say Kato has provided refuge in the past to Indonesian militants from the al-Qaida-linked Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as to a number of Filipino terror bombing suspects.