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Missionary Accuses Philippine General

The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, is stopped by Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard (12) in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the NBA finals Tuesday, June 9, 2009, in Orlando, Fla. The Magic won their first NBA finals game beating the Lakers 108-104.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
An American missionary held hostage for more than a year has accused the Philippine military of colluding with her captors, saying a general demanded a 50 percent cut of the ransom.

In her newly released book, "In the Presence of My Enemies," Gracia Burnham described her 377-day ordeal at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf group. It ended with a bloody army rescue on June 7 that left her husband, Martin, and Philippine nurse Ediborah Yap dead.

She said members of the Philippine military provided rice, sugar and other food for the Muslim guerrillas holding her captive. She said she was told it was because Abu Sayyaf was "wheeling and dealing" with the general in the region, who wanted a cut of the ransom.

She said the guerrillas offered 20 percent; the general wanted 50 percent. Negotiations between the two sides ultimately broke down, she said.

Philippine army chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling, commander of the southern Philippines in the early weeks of the abduction, on Tuesday denied any collusion between the rebels and the military. He suggested Burnham and the other captives may have been tricked.

"They were inside; their minds could easily be controlled by (Abu Sayyaf leader) Abu Sabaya and the rebels who could have fed them wrong information and acted out some drama," Camiling said. "How can she say they were soldiers? She was misled."

"We lost 45 soldiers just for the rescue," said Gen. Roy Cimatu, who succeeded Camiling when rescue operations were in full swing. "It's really unfair to make those allegations considering the soldiers risked their lives and many lost their lives."

The Abu Sayyaf attracted international attention with a yearlong kidnapping spree that began in May 2001. They eventually killed 18 of the 102 hostages they took.

Burnham's book connects the Muslim extremists to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization. She said that in May 2001 - three months before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - her captors told Martin Burnham to say in a ransom message that he was being held by "the Osama bin Laden group."

She also disputed Abu Sayyaf's claims that the group never received a $330,000 ransom payment made for the release of the Kansas missionaries. She did not disclose the source of the money.

Burnham recounted how some of her captors gleefully spent their share of the ransom money: Each group member got at least $200. Some bought huge sacks of cookies, one bought a big tub of fried chicken, another bought a tape player and some music.

Contrary to earlier Philippine military claims, Burnham said it was gunfire from soldiers that wounded her and killed her husband and Yap during the rescue operation in a mountain forest. She said the injuries came before the Abu Sayyaf were able to take position and return fire.

Glicero Sua, a retired army general who supervised the rescue, said Mrs. Burnham's account could be true but added there has been no final conclusion on the source of the bullets that hit the hostages.

"The probability is there," Sua said, but stressed that the military took pains to ensure the safety of the hostages.

The book also reports for the first time details about the beheading of American hostage Guillermo Sobero, including reportedly his last words: "Oooh, oooh, don't kill me! I want to see my sons!"

Alberto Sobero, of Cathedral City, Calif., said he "almost got sick" when he read about his brother's beheading - even though an FBI agent had earlier confirmed the details.

"I can't believe such cruelty exists in this world - nothing that any human being can do merits that kind of treatment," he said.


By Roxana Hegeman