The leader of the breakaway rebel group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has reportedly died in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao. Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, who broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008, died on Tuesday from a heart attack, reports said. Oblates missionary priest Eliseo Mercado, who knew Umbra Kato personally, confirmed the death. "I had known him for years and respected him for his belief and conviction," said Mercado. "He died a poor man like many people in the Bangsamoro area," the priest added. Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the MILF, also confirmed reports of Umbra Kato's death. Armed forces spokesman Brigadier-General Joselito Kakilala said that although the military "is still trying to confirm the report", the information is a "welcome development". He described Umbra Kato as "the inspiration to BIFF members who wage violent attacks against peaceful communities". Kakilala said Umbra Kato’s death will result in the "gradual demise" of the BIFF and will "open the door for greater peace and unity in Mindanao". Umbra Kato broke away from the MILF amid disagreements over the rebel group's peace negotiations with the government. Armed clashes between the BIFF and government forces in the past two months have resulted in the displacement of some 120,000 people in Central Mindanao. The BIFF, whose fighters were involved in the January 25 killing of 67 people — including dozens of police commandos — claim to have at least 5,000 members. The military, however, said the rebel group has only about 300 heavily-armed fighters. The rebel group launched attacks against civilian communities in 2008 after the Philippine Supreme Court nullified an agreement on ancestral domains between the government and the MILF. Umbra Kato was born in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao province. He joined the MILF in 1985 after graduating from the Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
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