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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Arroyo defends hostage rescue
Philippines troops arrive in Zamboanga, southern Philippines
Extra troops have been drafted to fight the rebels
Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has defended last week's operation against Abu Sayyaf rebels to rescue three hostages, which left two of them dead.

Speaking during a visit to the south of the country, where the military is still pursuing the rebels, she insisted that her troops had exercised good judgment.

Mrs Arroyo noted that some media reports had described Friday's operation - which succeeded in rescuing one of the hostages, American missionary Gracia Burnham - as a "botched job".


Our military commanders made the right call

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo
Mrs Burnham has since returned to her home in Wichita, Kansas. Her husband, Martin, and a Filipina nurse, Ediborah Yap, were killed in the rescue attempt.

"Our military commanders made the right call. They made the correct call," President Arroyo told a news conference.

The Philippines leader noted that both the US Government and the rescued hostage herself had refused to criticise the operation.

"We especially want to thank the military men... who risked and even gave their lives to rescue us," Gracia Burnham said, on being freed.

It is still not clear whether Martin Burnham was killed by his captors or in crossfire during the rescue mission.

Mrs Arroyo said she was planning to name a hospital after the nurse who was killed, and that the military was planning to enlist one of her sons, Jonathan Yap, "because he wants to help" in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf.

Fight continues

The Philippines leader stressed that the operation against the rebels was far from over.

But Mrs Arroyo said there was also a more fundamental fight to be won - the battle against poverty.

Unless that is won, she said, "we will have another generation, another outburst sometime in the future".

She has already declared that the military will unleash its full military arsenal on the rebels now they are no longer holding hostages.

US ambassador to the Philippines, Francis Ricciardone, has said that Mrs Burnham had given the troops fresh information on the personalities and methods of the Abu Sayyaf.

Surveillance has been stepped up at Philippine ports, to prevent the rebels' escape abroad, and bloodhounds are also helping about 1,000 troops to hunt for the Abu Sayyaf.


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