by Deann Alford
AUSTIN, Texas, June 2 (Compass) -- Two New Tribes Mission workers kidnapped with 18 others from a southern Philippines resort are unharmed, but the Islamic rebels that snatched them are still holding them captive, confirmed NTM ministry spokesman Scott Ross.
Ross said that NTM is discounting Philippine wire service reports this morning that rebels had released missionary Gracia Burnham, 42, with one other hostage.
Burnham and her husband, Martin, 41, were captured May 27 while celebrating their anniversary at Dos Palmas resort, said the spokesman for the Florida-based non-denominational mission.
The Philippine military is battling Abu Sayyaf rebels on Basilan, an island located about 550 miles south of Manila, for the hostages' release.
In a rebel raid that same day on a nearby church and hospital, an additional 200 people were kidnapped, but six Filipinos escaped, he said. Several of the escaped hostages were on television in Manila within hours of their release, which is why NTM is discounting reports that Gracia Burnham and another hostage had been released, Ross said.
Scott also discounted earlier reports that two hostages had been killed. "No hostage has been found dead or shot," he said.
The missionaries were not targeted for the kidnapping, but NTM is concerned "because the two Burnhams and (fellow hostage Guillermo) Sobero are Americans and could be singled out," Ross said.
Vowing to crush the rebels, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has sent the military on an all-out assault on the rebels and has refused to negotiate with them.
The largest Muslim organization in the Philippines has condemned Abu Sayyaf for the kidnappings, Ross said. "We've had a couple of Muslim groups here in the States contacting the (Burnhams') families here in the States, apologizing."
Last year, the U.S. State Department listed Abu Sayyaf as the "smallest and most radical of the Islamic separatist groups operating in the southern Philippines."
The 2000 State Department report said that Abu Sayyif works in the southern Philippines and Manila and "uses bombs, assassinations, kidnappings and extortion payments to promote an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, areas in the southern Philippines heavily populated by Muslims." Its funding probably comes from Islamic extremists in the Middle East and South Asia, the report said.
The Burnhams live in Nueva Vizcaya province as support personnel for NTM workers in local tribal areas, Ross said. The couple has lived in the Philippines since 1986 and has three children ages 14, 11 and 10.
Copyright Â© 2001 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.