Former American hostage returns to Philippines to testify against abductors

An American missionary who was held hostage by Muslim extremists for 377 days has returned to the Philippines under tight security to testify against her abductors, officials said Tuesday.

Gracia Burnham, whose husband Martin was killed during a bloody military rescue mission on June 7, 2002, was invited to testify Thursday against her Abu Sayyaf abductors in a suburban court, prosecutors said.

Manila airport immigration chief Ferdinand Sampol said Burnham, from Wichita, Kan., arrived late Monday on a Continental Airlines flight, accompanied by U.S. FBI agents. She was whisked away by U.S. Embassy representatives and security personnel from the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation, Sampol said.

The Burnhams, missionaries for the Florida-based New Tribes Mission, were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary when they were snatched by the Abu Sayyaf at the upscale Dos Palmas resort on Palawan island on May 27, 2001, and taken by speedboat to southern Basilan island.

Fellow American Guillermo Sobero and 17 Filipinos also were kidnapped. Sobero, from Corona, Calif., was among several hostages beheaded by the rebels. Martin Burnham and a Filipino nurse were killed during the military rescue raid.

The other hostages were released or managed to escape.

Abu Solaiman, an Abu Sayyaf leader who remains at large while facing charges of murder, extortion and kidnapping, belittled testimony by former hostages like Burnham.

``Welcome back. Nothing personal about what happened to her and her husband Martin,'' Solaiman told Radio Mindanao Network on Tuesday. ``Gracia, you only lost Martin, but for us, we lost our homeland ... almost everything we have in this world.''

He said many former hostages have testified against the Abu Sayyaf, ``but we are still here.''

Gracia Burnham recounted her ordeal in a book, ``In the Presence of My Enemies,'' which aroused controversy in the Philippines because of her allegations that an unnamed Filipino general tried to keep half of the money raised for a possible ransom for the hostages and that soldiers delivered food and sold weapons to the guerrillas.

The resort raid was the start of a yearlong kidnapping spree, prompting the U.S. military to send troops and instructors to train Filipino soldiers in counterterrorism.

U.S.-backed offensives dislodged the guerrillas from their bases on Basilan. Philippine officials now consider the group a spent force, down from about 1,000 guerrillas four years ago to about 300, although it has been linked to several possible terror attacks.