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Bring Abu Sayyaf to justice: Burnham

Gracia Burnham shortly before leaving for the United States
Gracia Burnham shortly before leaving for the United States  


From CNN Correspondents Andrea Koppel and Maria Ressa

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in the Philippines were "not men of honor" and should be brought to justice, rescued American hostage Gracia Burnham told a media conference before flying home to the United States.

An emotional Burnham, who had been held for over a year by the Muslim group, said Monday she and her husband were constantly lied to by the rebel group.

Burnham was rescued in southern Zamboanga del Norte province on Friday during a gunbattle between troops and the guerrillas in which her husband, Martin, was killed.

Philippine nurse Deborah Yap, who was captured after the Burnhams, also died in the shootout.

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Doug Burnham, brother of the U.S. missionary who was slain by Philippine militants, speaks about his family's loss.

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"During our ordeal, we were repeatedly lied to by the Abu Sayyaf and they are not men of honor. They should be treated as common criminals. We support all efforts of the government in bringing these men to justice," Burnham said.

Burnham, a missionary, also thanked people for their prayers and support during her ordeal.

The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be linked to the al Qaeda network thought responsible for the September 11 terror attacks in the U.S.

Philippine troops are now "in hot pursuit" of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, who claim to be fighting for a separate Islamic state in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

With the group now holding no hostages, the Philippine government and military -- aided by the U.S. -- will be less restrained in their bid to wipe out Abu Sayyaf.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Saturday she had asked neighboring nations to be on the lookout for the Islamic militants fearing they may try to flee the country.

"In the past, the military always had to hold their fire because of the hostages. Now they can really be in hot pursuit, and they're doing that," Arroyo said.

"[U.S.] President Bush assured us of the continuing help of the United States in pushing our operations forward," she added. "We will forge on with greater fervor and tenacity."

The U.S. State Department has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to arrest or conviction of Abu Sayyaf's top five leaders.

More than 1,000 American troops are helping their Filipino counterparts patrol the Basilan island jungles in a joint mission aimed at wiping out the Abu Sayyaf as part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

The U.S. troops are to leave July 31.

Resting by the creek

The Burnhams, from Wichita, Kansas, were kidnapped while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a beach resort in western Palawan province last year.

Philippine Army Southern Commander Maj. Gen. Ernesto Carolina told CNN that Filipino Rangers had been on the militants' trail for 12 days when they came upon the group resting by a creek in heavy rain Friday.

The Abu Sayyaf fighters spotted the Rangers, who suspected the three hostages were with the group, and the gun battle erupted. (On the scene)

A half-hour later, the battle was over and two hostages and some of the militants were dead.

Gracia Burnham, who was shot in the right leg, was airlifted to a Manila hospital.

Martin Burnham's father, Paul Burnham, told CNN's Newsnight with Aaron Brown that he learned about his son's death from the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, who called at 3:15 a.m. Friday morning.

'Not falling apart'

"I thought it would be a good call. I thought they would be released and I thought that they would be coming home to us soon and it was quite a shock to us," he said.

His daughter-in-law was looking forward to being home with her three children, he added.

"She said she wouldn't want to spend a minute longer there, she wanted to be home with her children just as quickly as possible and she was really looking forward to them," he said. (Family reaction)

Doug Burnham, Martin Burnham's brother told CNN the children were doing "pretty well."

"They are not falling apart, obviously they are grieving, but that's to be expected," he said.

Last words

A foreboding premonition had prompted Martin Burnham to write a good-bye letter to his three children just days before his death.

The letter -- given to Gracia Burnham by her husband -- was lost in the firefight, but soldiers found it again. (Farewell words)

A plane bearing Martin Burnham's body arrived at the U.S. Air Force's Kadena Air Base on Okinawa early Saturday morning. (Full story)

Pentagon officials said U.S. military helped plan the operation, but U.S. troops were not involved in the mission, or the rescue, which they said was the result of a "chance encounter." (Full story)

The Burnhams were taken hostage on May 27 last year along with American Guillermo Sobero and 17 Filipinos.

The remains of Sobero, a Californian native, were uncovered months later by Filipino troops near the Abu Sayyaf's jungle lair in Basilan province. He had been beheaded.

The other 16 Filipinos were later released.

-- CNN Producer Mike Mount at the Pentagon contributed to this report



 
 
 
 







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