Hostage couple longs for children

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

MANILA, Philippines -- A pair of terrified American missionaries, held hostage by Muslim extremists for six months, said in a videotape aired Monday that they long to rejoin their children.

The one-minute tape recorded Sunday showed Gracia and Martin Burnham surrounded by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas with heavy weaponry. It was the first video shown of the Wichita, Kan., couple since they were abducted May 27 while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a tourist resort. Both are in their early 40s.

More than 7,000 Filipino soldiers have been deployed in southern Basilan island to rescue the Americans and wipe out the guerrillas, who have been linked in the past to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

Martin Burnham, who had lost considerable weight, appeared more composed as he worried about their three children, who are being cared for in Kansas by their grandparents.

"My parents, I know, and my brothers and sisters ... they're surrounding my children with love, but there's no substitute for parents, and we would like to be there," he said.

Military officials have said the Abu Sayyaf has been decimated by the offensive and only about 100 guerrillas have survived by constantly running away instead of engaging troops on Basilan, about 545 miles south of Manila.

Only the Burnhams and a Filipino nurse remain in the rebels' hands.

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