Philippine Army troops have yet to rescue an American missionary couple and a Filipina nurse held hostage by Abu Sayyaf since last May.
Members of the violent Muslim group kidnapped New Tribes Mission workers Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kansas, from a tourist resort on the island of Palawan in the western Philippines. Seventeen other hostages have since been killed or released for ransom. The United States has linked Abu Sayyaf with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network.
The Philippine military initially set a December 16 goal for winning the release of the Burnhams, coinciding with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo then promised to rescue the Burnhams by Christmas. Arroyo now says the military will destroy Abu Sayyaf by the end of March. Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu says bad weather made it difficult for the Philippine marines to meet the December 16 deadline.
New Tribes spokesman Scott Ross says the agency continues to lobby the United States and the Philippines to work for the safe return of the captured missionaries. "We met several senators and representatives in Washington," Ross says. "We have caught the ear of the State Department, and even that of President Bush."
NTM has set up a crisis management team, and its leader has been in Manila for most of the last six months.
The apparently poor condition of the Burnhams has given the case a new urgency. On November 24, Arlyn de la Cruz-Collantes, a freelance journalist, filmed the Burnhams at an Abu Sayyaf hideout. Both had lost much weight. Martin reportedly told the journalist, "If only there is a possibility that you could take [Gracia] with you now, that would lighten my load. I hate to see her in this condition."