- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

CEBU, Philippines A local reporter apparently is being held by the Abu Sayyaf, further complicating the U.S.-assisted hunt for the Muslim terrorists who kidnapped an American missionary couple more than eight months ago.
Arlyn de la Cruz, a feisty TV journalist whose easy access and cozy relationship with the kidnappers has made her a controversial figure, has been missing since Jan. 19 when she headed into the jungles of Basilan in an effort to reach the rebel camp.
While the diminutive Mrs. de la Cruz is listed as a missing person rather than a hostage, the military says it believes she is embroiled in a dispute with Abu Sabaya, one of the terrorist group's leaders, over the proceeds of footage she shot in November of Gracia and Martin Burnham, the American couple taken hostage in a raid on the Dos Palmos Resort six months earlier.
The Abu Sayyaf is demanding a $2 million ransom for the release of the Burnhams.
"This is no Daniel Pearl," one veteran Philippine reporter said, referring to the Wall Street Journal reporter recently kidnapped in Pakistan.
This is likely a case of Mrs. de la Cruz saying, "kidnap me, whether for the publicity or a scoop. She's played a dangerous game with these people. She should be exposed for what she is," the reporter said.
Mrs. de la Cruz's footage of the Burnhams was sold by Net 25, the TV network of the Iglesia ni Cristo church, where she is an evening news anchor.
CBS News in the United States reportedly paid $20,000 for the film, which was used in a segment of its newsmagazine, "48 Hours."
It showed an emaciated Martin Burnham displaying the handcuff and chains that the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf rebels use to tether him to a tree each night. His wife, Gracia, looked on in tears.
Mrs. de la Cruz also was the first reporter to reach a group of hostages a year earlier on another predominantly Muslim island south of Basilan.
But she has long raised the suspicions of many of her peers, who are troubled by her cozy relationship with the Abu Sayyaf and acknowledged affection for its leader, Khadaffy Janjalani. Some accuse her of splitting the fees shes earned with the kidnappers, a charge she vehemently denies.
Even military officials who say they are on the lookout for Mrs. de la Cruz acknowledge that her disappearance could be another of her operations, suggesting she will emerge with footage to sell.
In any case, the presence of yet another hostage complicates the effort to free the Burnhams, which has taken on urgency as the first of 650 U.S. troops have arrived in the southern Philippines for joint-training exercises with the Philippine military.
The six-month war games are unusual in that they are taking place in a live-fire zone, where the Abu Sayyaf and the Philippine military have been doing battle for nearly a year.
While here in an advisory role, the U.S. troops are armed and can fire their weapons in self-defense.
The Muslim secessionists-turned-kidnappers have nabbed about 140 hostages during the past two years, receiving close to $20 million in ransom payments. The money is used to buy arms and to recruit members.


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