- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines Government troops said yesterday they had trapped a unit of Muslim guerrillas holding two Americans in the southern Philippines and were urging them to surrender.
The Abu Sayyaf rebels are holding about 10 Filipino hostages and American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan.
However, Col. Francisco Gudani said he didn't know if any of them were with the rebel unit that his troops had cornered on Basilan island.
"There is heavy fighting right now in Basilan and we have visual contact with the enemies," he said.
The fighting came a day after the Abu Sayyaf threatened to behead the Burnhams if the military didn't stop its assault.
The Abu Sayyaf, thought to number 1,000 fighters, has kidnapped dozens of foreigners and Filipinos in recent years and raised millions of dollars in ransom.
The group, which has beheaded several hostages, has suspected links to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Col. Gudani cited no immediate reports of casualties and issued a radio appeal for the guerrillas to surrender.
"To the Abu Sayyaf, listen to this surrender peacefully and we guarantee that no harm will come your way," he said on the Radio Mindanao Network.
He said the fighting is about six miles south of the Basilan provincial capital of Lantawan and 560 miles south of Manila.
The Burnhams, along with Peruvian-American Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., and 17 Filipinos, were taken hostage from a southwestern beach resort on May 27.
The remains of Mr. Sobero were found more than a week ago, ending speculation that he might be alive.
The United States is helping the Philippines train and supply weapons to some of the more than 7,000 Filipino soldiers pursuing the Abu Sayyaf.
The guerrillas claim to be fighting for Muslim independence in the southern Philippines, but the government dismisses them as mere bandits.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide