U.S. military planning to leave Philippines without Burnhams
U.S. troops will leave the Philippines July 31 whether or not American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham have been freed, officials told the Los Angeles Times over the Memorial Day weekend. "Obviously we're impatient to see the Burnhams released but the fact is we have methodical program and time management to help improve the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines," U.S. Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. told the paper. "It [the exercise] seems to be on time and proceeding well."
New Tribes Mission is outraged. "It's a travesty that they [the U.S. Special Forces] could come and go with Martin and Gracia still in captivity," mission spokesman Robert Mycell said. "This will be very difficult for people to understand."
The Wall Street Journal is having a hard time understanding it too. "U.S. departure from the Philippines still seems premature," the paper editorializes today, though it notes many successes of both the American and Philippine militaries. "After the attacks of September 11, President Bush declared that violence against Americans would not be tolerated and would guarantee reprisals. There are now worries that the Bush Administration is softening that stance. Perhaps those worries are overdrawn. But pulling U.S. troops out of the Philippines while Americans are still held captive, and before al Qaeda is defeated, sends the wrong message to terrorists around the world."
Of course, July 31 is still a ways off, and the Philippine military says it may have the Burnhams by then. Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Roy Cimatu says Abu Sayyaf is now a "spent force" and that the military is now "in the last phase of our operations" against the Muslim guerrillas. Of the estimated 800 Abu Sayyaf fighters, about 100 are left, he said: "We have killed 250 of them and about 200 have surrendered. We have neutralized the rest." (Different numbers came from Lt. Col. Jose Mabanta, chief of the military's public affairs office, who said only 60 of an original 600 are left.) Cimatu dismissed claims that the U.S. could help save the Burnhams. "Rescuing the two is not the problem," he said. "Locating them is the problem." To the Burnhams' family and friends he said, "Just be patient and we will get them."
They've been hearing that for a year. Alan Bjerga of The Wichita Eagle explains why: "The people with power to make decisions on the Burnhams' fatethe U.S. and Philippine governments and Abu Sayyaf have put politics in front of the rescue effort." It's a very good roundup of the problems faced by those who want the Burnhams freed.
On the rumor front, stories that Martin and Gracia have been separated and are very ill continue to play in the media. As always, there are denials, but nobody really knows much of anything for sure.
In other one-year roundups, the Eagle's Alex Branch notes that not only have the Burnhams' three childrenages 15, 12, and 11been without their parents all this time, they've also been away from their friends and home (they're staying with Martin's parents in Rose Hill, Kansas). "Birthdays, holidays, report cards and childhood rites-of-passageJeff has started shavinghave come and gone," Branch writes. "National news reporters have come to the house, pointing cameras and asking how they feel. They have no phones in their bedrooms so that the frequent middle-of-the-night phones calls from the Philippines won't wake them. Wrapped Christmas and Mother's Day gifts sit stacked in the corner of the living room. Even hope has proven cruel." The Orlando Sentinel has a similar story on the Burnhams' families.
As the one-year anniversary came in the Philippines, Paul Burnham delivered the Sunday night message at Rose Hill Bible Church. "We need to recognize that the suffering that God allows has one purposeto make each of us a better person," he said. "And you know, people can take everything else away from you. They can take you captive, they can take you away. But they can't take your faith away, they can't take your security away, because God said: 'I will never leave you. I will not forsake you.'" Other area churches held 24-hour vigils yesterday.
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