Detained US Missionary Couple Cries Out for Help

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Burnham's talk after eight months of detention in Philippines

By: Stefan J. Bos and Noel T. Tarrazona
ASSIST News Service Correspondent

ZAMBOANGA CITY, PHILIPPINES (ANS) -- An American missionary couple held hostage in the southern Philippines for eight months by the Muslim rebel group Abu Sayyaf has cried out for help, at a time of emotional and physical pain.

Martin and Gracia Burnham of New Tribes Mission made the comments in an interview aired on America's television program, 48 Hours, the Voice of America (VOA) reported Tuesday January 22.

Gracia Burnham said she and her husband "have sores in their mouths and on their legs" from poor nutrition and that she wakes up with chest pains.


The revelations about their medical condition came shortly after ASSIST News Service (ANS) reported that military operations continue to free the couple, possible with US involvement. Although US and Philippine officials have refused to confirm American combat operations, there are indications they keep options open.

ANS Southeast Asia Correspondent, Noel T. Tarrazona, who travels throughout the region, reported increased military activities in Zamboanga City and other area's in the Philippines on Tuesday and Wednesday.

He saw three C 130 U.S. aircrafts landed at Edwin Andrews Air Base in this Zmaboanga City with US troops on board. In addition military equipment and hardware were also unloaded from the planes, Tarrazona noted.


Meanwhile about 36 United States Special Forces troops began joint military exercises with local troops in the northern Philippines Wednesday January 23 in an operation called "Balance Piston," VOA said.

The Associated Press quoted commander of the Philippine Special Forces, Colonel Jovenal Narcise, as saying the training will include reaction to snipers, ambushes and marksmanship.

At the same time some 660 US troops are to participate in a separate exercise in the southern Philippines next week called "Balikatan," aimed at wiping out the Abu Sayyaf, VOA reported.


However a senior member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), another group fighting for a seperate Islamic state in the Southern Philippines, warned that a fire fight between American soldiers and the Abu Sayyaf is inevitable and that the mission couple could be used as human shields.

"You cannot avoid that (U.S.-Abu Sayyaf clash). What if they face each other? They have to engage in battle and there will be gunfire confrontation," MILF's Spokesman Ustadz Sharrif Julabbi told ANS.

The Abu Sayyaf group allegedly has links to the al-Qaida network of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

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