US missionary couple tells of hostage ordeal

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The Independent Online

A pair of American missionaries, held hostage by Muslim extremists for six months, told of their continuing ordeal on a videotape yesterday, describing brushes with illness, gunfire and the constant spectre of death.

The brief footage, showing Gracia and Martin Burnham surrounded by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas with heavy weaponry, was the first video shown of the Wichita, Kansas, couple since they were abducted on 27 May while celebrating their wedding anniversary at a tourist resort in the Phillipines.

More than 7,000 Filipino soldiers, backed by US equipment and training, have been deployed on the southern island of Basilan to rescue the Americans and destroy the guerrillas. The couple, who are in their 40s, said they have developed mouth sores from lack of nutrients, thriving on scarce supplies of cassava and bananas. They displayed a jar of Skippy peanut butter sent by friends. Mr Burnham's heavy red beard could not conceal his considerable weight loss.

They were interviewed by freelance journalist Arlyn de la Cruz while a crew from the local cable television channel Net 25 filmed them.

The Burnhams were among three Americans and scores of Filipinos seized by the rebels in a kidnapping spree that began in May. Only the Burnhams and a Filipino nurse remain in rebel hands.