Commanders and followers of a wanted leader of the Philippines' one-time biggest Moro revolutionary group have declared his son as second-in-command during an assembly in the troubled southern province of Sulu.
Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, chief of the Joint Task Group Sulu, said in a text message sent to an Anadolu Agency correspondent late Monday that Hadji Uto Karim Misuari -- the eldest son of the founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, Nur Misuari -- has become the vice chairman of its central committee.
Arrojado cited information relayed to him by "concerned citizens and attendees".
Since 2013, Nur Misuari has been wanted for rebellion, genocide and crimes against humanity on charges of commanding a siege in the majority Christian city of Zamboanga, which resulted in the death of more than 300 people and the destruction of some 1,000 mostly Muslim homes.
The siege was launched in protest at a peace deal between the government and MNLF breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Arrojado‘s message Monday said Karim -- believed to be in his late 30's -- was voted in Sunday during a day-long "Leadership Assembly" focused on the results of a tripartite review of a 1996 final peace agreement conducted at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and the MNLF's version of Bangsamoro independence.
According to Arrojado, the attendees welcomed the recent non-passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), saying this would be beneficial to their group.
The BBL would have implemented the peace agreement between the government and the MILF, but with Congress adjourned for election campaigning it is still to be ratified, raising the chances that large-scale conflict could return to the country’s mineral-rich -- but impoverished -- southern region.
Arrojado said the meeting was attended by around 2,000 people including the group's state revolutionary committee, Bangsamoro Armed Forces unit commanders, members of the parliament of the central committee and district commanders from around Mindanao.
Karim is reportedly a Masters graduate in Arabic and Shariah law from a Libyan university. He takes over the position from Orlando Onamit, who is reported to have been suffering health problems.
Arrojado said that the sources had told him that no plans were discussed to stage attacks similar to the Zamboanga City siege during the meeting.
"The MNLF are [focused on] their reorganizational structures," he added. "They did not come up with a plan for hostile action. They were busy with the organizational change, and were apparently quite glad that the proposed BBL is dead in the water, because this would tend to favor the prospective implementation of the 1996 MNLF final peace agreement.”
The MNLF, as is the case with the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and -- to a smaller extent -- the Abu Sayyaf have been fighting for a Muslim homeland in the country's poverty-stricken Mindanao region for decades.
In 1996, it signed a peace accord with the government, but hundreds of fighters held on to their weapons. They have since accused officials of reneging on a promise to develop an autonomous region for minority Muslims.
The group later fractionalized, its largest breakaway bloc the MILF gaining strength, and eventually signing the peace deal with the government March 27 2014, named the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Misuari is alleged to have launched the attack on Zamboanga while discussions were ongoing. he has claiming the new deal is a betrayal of a 1996 agreement, has left his organization shortchanged, and has granted Muslims in the region lesser autonomy.
The MNLF is reported to have received financial and military assistance from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and maintained an office in Tripoli until rebel activity flared up in the country and eventually led to Gaddafi's death in 2011.