<i>48 Hours</i>: Hostage

After Eight Months In Captivity, Martin and Gracia Burnham Speak Out

A U.S.-trained scout ranger company sets off on a dangerous 48-hour mission to free two American hostages, Martin and Gracia Burnham of Kansas, held captive by terrorists for eight months.

The hostages only pray they're not caught in the crossfire. "It's very difficult when you're laying on the ground and you drop and you run and you drop," says Gracia. "And bullets are whizzing past your head. And we always look at each other and I tell Martin: 'I love you. I want you to know it before I die.' "

In an extraordinary interview deep in the jungle, the two Americans plead for their lives. "Our condition is deteriorating," says Martin. "We want to go home right away."

Gracia adds, "We need someone to have mercy on us."

This tale of terrorism is not taking place in Afghanistan, but on a remote island in the Philippines; the terrorists are not Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, but a possibly related group calling itself Abu Sayyaf and their victims were captured long before Sept. 11.

As Correspondent Susan Spencer reports, an informant has told the Philippine scout rangers the terrorists and their hostages are camped out near a river. It's grueling, after a 12-hour overnight hike; a daring dawn rescue is planned.

The Burnhams - Martin is 42 and Gracia is 43 - are missionaries from Kansas.

"Martin and Gracia are a very special couple," says fellow missionary Bob Meisel. Ever since the Burnhams arrived in the Philippines in 1986, that country has seemed like home to them.

"Martin and Gracia loved people," says Meisel. "They would do anything for you."

Martin flew supply runs into the jungle for the New Tribes Mission, taking food and medicine to remote outposts. Gracia taught the kids - Jeffrey, Mindy and Zack - and acted as Martin's mission control on the ground.

"Gracia is a very gracious girl," says Meisel. "The name fits her well."

That graciousness in the face of tough conditions soon made the Burnhams a local legend. "They're both very much about everybody else and their needs," says Gracia's sister, Mary Jones.

Jones says it was on a rare occasion when they focused on their own needs that disaster struck. The Burnhams' 18th wedding anniversary was in May and to celebrate they did something very out of character - they made arrangements to spend the night at a resort off the island of Palawan.

"They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," says Meisel.

They had rented the cottage for just one night, but as dawn broke, all hell broke loose.

"We were sleeping in nightclothes and suddenly they just banged the door, "says 15-year-old Lalaine Chua. Chua was on vacation with her family, staying in a nearby cottage when heavily armed Abu Sayyaf guerrillas kicked in the door. They were looking for Americans.

They'd already rousted the Burnhams and even before she could put her shoes on, the bandits took Lalaine, leaving her parents behind.

They were loaded into a big speedbot and spent five days on the open ocean before they finally beached in the dark of the night on a remote Philippine island called Basilan.

The Philippine army had tracked them, and days later, cameras were rolling when government troops cornered the guerrillas. They had hunkered down inside a hospital where they'd gone to steal medical supplies. The army opened fire with seemingly little regard for the hostages. But somehow, the terrorists got away with their hostages.

The incident baffles Gracia's sister Mary Jones.

"We got this report that they had snuck away with the hostages into
the jungle. And I just could not understand how that could possibly be allowed
to happen. It was absolutely ridiculous."

The army kept up its pursuit, regularly skirmishing with the terrorists and terrifying the hostages.

"She took care of me out there," Chua says of Gracia. "She gave me the courage to stay brave."

After 38 days, ransom reportedly was paid for Lalaine. She was released, leaving behind the couple who had saved her from despair.

"If ever she gets free, I want to see her to thank her personally," says the girl of Gracia.

Many wonder if she will get that chance. "Sometimes when I get done walking, my feet will be raw and oozing blood," Gracia says in the videotaped interview. "Our opportunity for escape is nil."

Desperation clearly is taking hold.

"Each time they release someone," says Gracia, "they tell us 'We're gonna go out and we're gonna tell your story. You're gonna be out of here really soon.' And then the weeks pass and the months pass and then another hostage goes out and 'We're gonna tell your story.' "

Arlyn De La Cruz is telling the Burnhams' story. Now a CBS consultant, she is an award-winning reporter for Philippine TV's Net 25 and has inside access to Abu Sayyaf.

Traveling alone and in disguise, she flew to Zamboanga in the southern Philippines and took a ferry to Basilan. She was brought into the jungle, and led to a rendezvous with Abu Sayyef guerrillas and the Burnhams.

The Burnhams, under heavy guard, pleaded for help.

"This is no way to live," Gracia says. "There is no way to take care of yourself. Last night, I woke up with severe chest pains and there's nothing you can do. You just lay there and you're in pain. You can't sleep."

There's little water and no soap, they say. "We have sores in our mouths because there's no nutrition in the food we're eating," Gracia says. "We have sores on our legs. Well, nobody cares about that here, but I can't take care of myself."

Seeing the full tape was almost more than Gracia's sister, Mary Jones could bear. "I mean I knew all those things, but I just didn't have to visualize it until I saw," she says.

Typical of long-held hostages, the Burnhams seem now to sympathize somewhat with their captors, and their demands.

"I've lived with them for six months," Gracia says, crying, "and I really like these boys. And I would do aything for them. But they're the enemy, let's face it."

There are continued reports of back-channel negotiations, but both U.S. and Philippine policy is never to negotiate with terrorists. In November, after he met with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo to discuss the Abu Sayyaf, President Bush said, "She assures me that she has a competent military and a military that can deal with Abu Sayyaf."

Mr. Bush believes that the group has links to Osama bin Laden. Abu Sayyaf's founder trained with bin Laden in Afghanistan and Bob Fitts, U. S. Charge d'Affairs in Manila, says there have been sightings of Arabs among Abu Sayyaf members.

In an interview with 48 Hours, Arroyo insists there are no longer any links between al-Qaida and Abu Sayyaf. She also claims that the terrorist group rarely talks about Muslim rights any more. "It's all about money," she says.

Which is why the Burnhams' friends and relatives are so worried.

"Has anything but money ever worked?" Spencer asks. "The word is that most people have paid to get out so far," Meisel says, but adds "I know we can't".

The Philippine special forces are trying to get them out every day. The Burnhams so far have been through 12 firefights. As desperate as they are to be free, they dread each operation.

The Philippine army is about to launch its 13th rescue attempt and President Arroyo is so sure it will work that she calls her commanding general during our interview to confirm the plan.

Will the next mission succeed?

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