Many False Hopes For Family

Philippine Army Claims Rescue Is Imminent

After eight months in captivity, each passing day only highlights the desperation of Martin and Gracia Burnham and their family back in Kansas.

"They looked weak and sickly. It was hard to see them suffer," says their 12-year-old daughter Mindy, who adds that the rest of the family is held hostage as well.

No one, says Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, is more concerned about them than she is, conferring daily with Gen. Cimatu, commander of the army’s rescue operation.

The army’s been tipped to the Burnham’s location by an informant, but even before the scout rangers go out, the general predicts enormous success. He says in just a day and a half, the Burnhams should be free.

An American plane is standing by, just in case.

So sure was Cimatu that he's agreed to take Susan Spencer and a 48 Hours crew with him to Basilan.

The general says the Burnhams are within just a few miles of the army’s front lines, but the trick is getting them out alive.

The scout rangers doggedly continue the search and in a few days find a campsite. On the ground is a notebook with Arabic writing in it and western style clothing. The army is sure the camp was Abu Sayyaf, but suspect it is a week since anyone was there.

Reporter Arlyn De La Cruz speculates that past rescues failed because some officers are on the take, citing the hospital fiasco, when the terrorists left by the back while scores of army troops guarded the front.

“This is just my opinion, “ she says, “this is the reason why some of the troops are not moving in, because there is this hanging question of collusion between top commanders and Abu Sayyaf.

President Arroyo is dismayed at the suggestion. “I don’t think its right to accuse them of taking bribes,” she says.”So many soldiers have died so that the Burnhams can stay alive.

She says $100 million in U.S. military aid pledged after Sept. 11 should help rescue efforts, along with the recent decision to send in more than 600 U.S. troops being sent in as advisors.

Christmas comes and goes and so do the army's promises. Philippine leaders still insist rescue could come at any time. Arlyn de la Cruz is on the scene, waiting for breaking news.

Rumors of back channel ransom payments have intensified in recent days and de la Cruz has returned to Zamboanga. In Washington, family and friends are pushing for immediate action with petitions and pleas,

“I'm mad at our government, because I think they could do a lot more, “ says Gracia Burham’s sister, Mary Jones.

The most encouraging new development was last week’s arrival on Basilan of the first group of U.S. advisors, with more to come. Perhaps, their family hopes, Martin and Gracia really are a priority now.

The Philippine scout rangers will begin joint exercises with American troops in the coming weeks. Both governments insist the mission involves "advice and training" nly.

After 240 days, there is no shortage of prayer for two Americans who know firsthand what terrorism means.

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