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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 12:32 GMT
Philippines hostages 'suffering'
Fighters from the Abu Sayyaf rebel group
The rebels say they want a separate Muslim state
Two American Christian missionaries held in the Philippines by the Abu Sayyaf Islamic separatist group are suffering after nearly six months in the jungle, freed hostages have said.

They want their family to know they are sick and tired of running

Freed hostage
Martin and Gracia Burnham, seized from a luxury tourist resort in the western Philippines, gave a letter addressed to their families to one of seven hostages recovered by Philippine troops on Thursday.

Military officials say three of the hostages were rescued in an operation on the southern Basilan island, while four others were later recovered from another part of the island.

Martin and Gracia Burnham
The Burnhams are both in their early forties
Besides the Burnhams, the kidnappers are now believed to be holding just one other hostage - Filipino nurse Deborah Yap.

Two of those freed were among 20 people, including the Burnhams, who were kidnapped on 27 May.

Most were freed by the rebels after alleged ransom payments - but the group seized more Filipino hostages, including the nurse, in Lamitan town on Basilan on 2 June.

'Always crying'

The woman who carried the Burnhams' letter said the Americans were exhausted after being taken from one hideout to another by the kidnappers.

Filipino troops on the island of Basilan
The army has been hunting for the rebels since May
"They are not fine there," Angie Montealegre told reporters. "They want their family to know they are sick and tired of running".

Gracia Burnham was "always crying," said the second hostage Maria Fe Rosadeno.

The two women said they had lived off root crops, vegetables and bananas, while the kidnappers fought off the military in running gun battles that sometimes lasted for days.

Military battle

Military southern command chief Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu said troops were continuing their campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

"We are very close to recovering the Americans," he said.

Still held:
Martin Burnham
Gracia Burnham
Deborah Yap
The Burnhams are from Wichita, Kansas. The remains of a third American, Guillermo Sobero of Corona, California, were found on Basilan early last month. The Abu Sayyaf say they beheaded him.

They have killed more than a dozen Filipino hostages.

The United States has linked Abu Sayyaf to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and has promised to increase military assistance to help Manila combat the group.

On Wednesday, the US military commander for the Pacific, Admiral Dennis Blair, visited the military command in the south to personally offer advice.

  • Another Muslim group in the southern Philippines - the Pentagon - has been holding hostage an Italian priest, Giuseppe Pierantoni, captured last month.

  • Philippine troops shot dead five members of the gang on Monday, but other gang members escaped with the priest, the army said.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
US bolsters Manila's rebel crackdown
05 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Hostages rescued in the Philippines
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
28 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Filipino rebel group claim kidnappings
01 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf?
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