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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Tiahrt optimistic about hostage release

November 21, 2001

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— Rep. Todd Tiahrt said he is optimistic that two Rose Hill natives being held hostage in the Philippines will be released safely.
Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic extremist group fighting government troops in the southern Philippines, took Martin and Gracia Burnham hostage in May. Of the more than two dozen hostages taken in the past six months, only the Burnhams and a Filipino nurse remain captive.
"There is a lot of pressure on Abu Sayyaf to release them or face the consequences," Tiahrt, a Republican, told The Wichita Eagle after meeting Monday with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Tiahrt was one of nine members of Congress who met with Arroyo, the Philippine ambassador to the United States and leaders of both houses of the Philippine legislature for a luncheon Monday.
"The ambassador said the Philippine military had the ability to wipe out Abu Sayyaf, but they have withheld their final attack to get the Burnhams released unhurt," Tiahrt said.
Last month, Abu Sayyaf leaders threatened to behead the Burnhams in conjunction with Arroyo's visit to the United States. Tiahrt called the passage of the deadline an encouraging sign.
"That was the latest in a long series of threats," he said. Although the Burnhams are still in danger, Tiahrt said, "the (Philippine) military has the upper hand" in its conflicts with outlaw groups.
Tiahrt said he asked Arroyo to place a call to Martin Burnham's parents, Paul and Oreta Burnham of Rose Hill. They have been caring for the Burnhams' three children since the kidnapping.
Abu Sayyaf is one of several rebel groups in the southern Philippines, the island nation's poorest region. Fighting escalated Monday as hundreds of rebels from a different outlaw group, the Moro National Liberation Front, launched an uprising. At least 55 soldiers and rebels were killed.
Tiahrt said U.S. economic aid was the main topic of the luncheon. He said the United States might soon be funding road-building projects, as well as military equipment, to help alleviate the economic conditions that have contributed to the rebellion.
"They would like to set up sort of an economic zone," Tiahrt said. "By enhancing the economic status, there won't be so much incentive to fight."

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