The Philippines' largest Muslim guerrilla group has ousted a radical commander who staged a mutiny and then formed a breakaway force with hundreds of fighters, a rebel leader said Sunday.
Vice Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Ghazali Jaafar said his group approved a resolution last week dropping Ameril Umbra Kato from its membership after months of efforts to woo him and his fighters back failed.
Kato told The Associated Press last week that he has formed a new group to fight for a Muslim homeland.
Rebel negotiators will notify their Philippine government counterparts of Kato's removal when the two sides resume peace talks in Malaysia on Monday, Jaafar said.
Kato has about 200 to 300 fighters in the hinterlands of southern Maguindanao province, a stronghold of the main rebel force, Jaafar said. Asked how the rebels would deal with Kato and his men if they start creating trouble, Jaafar said his group has not made any definite plans.
The infighting within the main 11,000-strong rebel force underscores the complexity of the Muslim unrest that has claimed more than 120,000 lives and stunted growth in the impoverished but resource-rich south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.
Philippine officials have expressed concern over the infighting, which they say casts doubts about the main rebel group's ability to enforce any future accord in the peace talks brokered by Malaysia.
President Benigno Aquino III said the rebels have acknowledged the infighting and could seek help from the military. But if Kato launches attacks, government troops would have to take steps to protect communities, he said.
Kato, who is in his late 60s, said last week that he left because the main rebel group chose to "waste time" by deciding to negotiate with the government for expanded autonomy instead of fighting for an independent homeland that would liberate minority Muslims from crushing poverty and neglect.
Security officials have accused Kato in the past of providing refuge to members of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group and Filipino militants. They include Usman Basit, who has been sought by U.S. and Philippine authorities in connection with deadly bomb attacks.
Kato said he and his men lead honourable lives and are ready to die for their convictions if they come under attack. He condemned groups like the Abu Sayyaf, which he described as bandits "who exist for money and engage in forbidden business."