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Archive for Saturday, July 31, 2004

Kansan has high hopes for peace in the Philippines

July 31, 2004

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— An American missionary who returned to the Philippines to testify against the Muslim rebel captors who held her and her slain husband for more than a year said Friday she hoped her effort would help rid the country of terrorism.

Escorted by FBI agents, Gracia Burnham, 45, left Manila on a U.S.-bound flight a day after recounting in a court how her captors from the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group used to shackle her husband Martin before he was killed in a bloody June 2002 military rescue operation.

"How I would love to see your fair land free from terror," a smiling Burnham read from a prepared statement at the airport. "It is the wish of so many of us. ... That's why I returned to testify."

She said her testimony "was one thing I could do to make this country and this world a better place."

The Burnhams, of Rose Hill, Kan., and longtime Christian missionaries for the Florida-based New Tribes Mission, were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary when they were abducted at a resort on western Palawan island on May 27, 2001, and taken by speedboat to southern Basilan island.

Also seized were Guillermo Sobero, of Corona, Calif., and 17 Filipino workers and tourists. Sobero was among several hostages beheaded.

Prosecutor Leo Dacera said Burnham was critical to the case because she was held the longest.

During 2 1/2 hours on the stand, Burnham identified six of the handcuffed suspects, separated from her by a wooden grill, said prosecutor Aristotle Reyes.

"Life for me the last few years has often been a struggle," she said at the airport. "I'm learning what single parenting is all about. I've been trying to figure out what my next step should be, but one thing I have learned, it is during the hard times in life that we are forced to fall to your knees.

"My captivity on the island of Basilan was one of those hard times," she said, adding that her three children who were born in the Philippines were "disappointed" they couldn't accompany her.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo praised Burnham for her "courage and faith and her determination to bring terrorists to justice.

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