Who has the Burnhams?
Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has again responded sternly to negotiation offers from the group holding U.S. missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and nurse Ediborah Yap. The president restated that her administration does not negotiate.
The response from the group, Abu Sayyaf, was direct: "Start looking for the dead bodies.''
"We are no longer interested in negotiations," Abu Sayyaf member Abu Sabaya told a Philippine radio station. "It's finished and done with. We accept the challenge of the Philippine government. If we see the fighting is closing in, then probably, we'll just say goodbye to these (hostages)."
But is the threat legitimate?
Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jose Mabanta told reporters yesterday that the threats are being taken seriously, but being checked for validity. Officials now say that Sabaya is not an Abu Sayyaf leader and may not be part of the group that actually holds the Burnhams and Yap.
"We know for a fact that [Sabaya] does not control or command," Mabanta said. "He is the spokesman and deals only with propaganda. Sabaya has been relegated and is now an outcast of the group."
Philippine government officials are speculating that a rift has developed in the Abu Sayyaf ranks precipitated by claims of a deal with the Burnham family. "One group is trying to put down the other group," said Lt. Col. Danilo Servando.
He said that Martin Burnham's father apparently dealt with Abu Sulayman, the new spokesman for bandit leader Khadafy Janjalani and the main branch of Abu Sayyaf. Sabaya reportedly allies with Isnilon Hapilon, a mid-level bandit leader.
Servando says this shows that Sulayman, not Sabaya, is in touch with actual group leadership and that ...1
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