Rescue risky for American held hostage, military says

Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — Any rescue of American hostages being held by Muslim extremists guerillas would be risky since at least one of them spends much of his time chained to his guard, a military official said Monday.

Missionary Martin Burnham and his wife, Gracia, have been held by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on the southern Philippine island of Basilan for six months. The couple, from Wichita, Kan., talked of illness, fear of gunfire and death in a recent televised interview.

The televised image also showed a handcuff on one of Martin’s wrists.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said government troops have had recent sightings of the American hostages and their captors but the soldiers have to move carefully to avoid exposing the captives to danger.

"The challenge now is how to rescue the Burnhams without (them) being injured. Martin is frequently chained or roped to one of his guards," he said.

Adan said a number of hostages recently rescued by government troops said the guerrillas would put Martin in shackles whenever they move through the jungle or sense that soldiers are nearby.

"This is a formidable challenge to any (rescue) force," he said.

More than 7,000 soldiers, whom the United States is helping to arm and train, are scouring Basilan’s jungle-covered mountains to rescue the Burnhams and a Filipino nurse, Deborah Yap.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked in the past to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network, claims to be Muslim independence fighters but the group is dismissed by the government as mere bandits.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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