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New Tribes Mission (NTM) is dismissing media reports that Muslim terrorists have moved American hostages Martin and Gracia Burnham from a jungle camp to a house in the southern Philippines.

New Tribes said in a late January statement that “the Philippine military is saying all indications are that the Burnhams are still being held captive in the jungles of Basilan Island. NTM’s sources concur with the Philippine military information.” The missionary couple has been held on Basilan Island, 560 miles south of Manila, since May 27 (see “Families of Kidnaped Burnhams Wait,” p. 26).

Meanwhile, Gracia Burnham’s sister said in a radio broadcast that relatives have no money for ransom. In an appeal to the Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, Mary Jones said, “Harming Martin and Gracia will not solve anything and will only deprive their children, and our family, of the people we love.” Local officials say Abu Sayyaf rebels are demanding $1 million each for the Burnhams and about $2,000 for a local nurse.

The Jones appeal was broadcast a couple of days before 660 U.S. troops, including 160 Special Forces soldiers, began military exercises in the southern Philippines (CT, Feb. 4, p. 24). During the Balikatan (“shouldering the load together”) exercises, Philippines leaders seek to improve the military’s ability to shut down Abu Sayyaf permanently. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the Philippine military have met with politicians who have constitutional objections to the U.S. troops’ presence. But Philippine Press Undersecretary Bobby Capco says the U.S. troops are in the country under a mutual defense agreement. Filipinos have protested the U.S. military presence. The Philippine government has not said if a rescue will be attempted.

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March 11, 2002

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