Ransom really was paid for Burnhams
It turns out that Fox News was right after all. Nearly three weeks ago, it reported that the U.S. government had aided a private ransom payment to free American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham. The Philippine government, including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself, denied that any ransom had been paid, but unnamed senior U.S. officials are now confirming it.

"There has been some progress and activity as recent as today," the official said late yesterday. But there's apparent frustration that the $300,000 ransom hasn't led to the Burnhams' freedom. "The decision was made over Pentagon objections," an official told The Washington Times. "It was essentially State and the National Security Council deciding to do it. The bad guys got the money and we don't have the hostages."

Philippine officials are still denying the story. "The story has no basis and is apparently not true," National Security Adviser Roilo Golez told Reuters. "Ransom is against U.S. and Philippine government policy." Actually, that's not necessarily true anymore. In February the U.S. government said it would evaluate hostage situations on a case-by-case basis.

Where the money came from is a mystery. "The $300,000 payment technically came from a private organization, said sources, who added that they did not know exactly how the transfer to Abu Sayyaf was made," reports The Washington Times. New Tribes Mission adamantly denies it was involved. "While NTM has not been and will not be involved in any ransom, we continue to make every effort to seek freedom for the captives," says the agency's latest statement. And Martin's family says it wasn't involved either. Martin's mother, Oreta, said today that all she knows about the ransom is what she's read in the paper. "I don't know how to react to this," she said. "It would be good if it does help. We would like to see them get out."

In related news, local officials say the Burnhams were spotted together on Basilan island, along with fellow hostage Ediborah Yap.

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