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Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Missionary, in book, says captors, Philippine general were in collusion

May 7, 2003

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— An American missionary held hostage for more than a year has accused the Philippine military of colluding with her captors, saying a general demanded a 50 percent cut of the ransom.

In her newly released book, "In the Presence of My Enemies," Gracia Burnham described her 377-day ordeal at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf group. It ended with a bloody army rescue on June 7 that left her husband, Martin, and Philippine nurse Ediborah Yap dead.

She said members of the Philippine military provided rice, sugar and other food for the Muslim guerrillas holding her captive. She said she was told it was because Abu Sayyaf was "wheeling and dealing" with the general in the region, who wanted a cut of the ransom.

Philippine army chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling, commander of the southern Philippines in the early weeks of the abduction, on Tuesday denied any collusion between the rebels and the military.

Gen. Roy Cimatu, who succeeded Camiling when rescue operations were in full swing, said Burnham's revelations were unverified.

"We lost 45 soldiers just for the rescue," Cimatu said. "It's really unfair to make those allegations considering the soldiers risked their lives and many lost their lives."

The book also connected the Muslim extremists to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization. Burnham said that in May 2001 -- three months before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- her captors told Martin Burnham to say in a ransom message that he was being held by "the Osama bin Laden group."

Contrary to earlier Philippine military claims, Burnham said it was gunfire from soldiers that wounded her and killed her husband and Yap during the rescue operation in a mountain forest. She said the injuries came before the Abu Sayaff were able to take position and return fire.

Glicero Sua, a retired army general who supervised the rescue, said Burnham's account could be true but added there has been no final conclusion on the source of the bullets that hit the hostages.

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