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Abu Sayyaf Reneges on Deal to Release Hostages - 2002-04-25


The father of one of the western hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf Muslim separatist group in the Philippines has said the group reneged on a deal to release its hostages last month. The group has been holding an American missionary couple and a Philippine nurse for nearly 11 months.

Paul Burnham, father of American hostage Martin Burnham, told a Philippine radio station that a deal had been reached to release his son, his daughter-in-law Gracia Burnham, and Philippine nurse Ediborah Yap.

The elder Mr. Burnham said a mediator told the family on March 26 the release of the three hostages was imminent, but nothing happened. Mr. Burnham told the radio station Thursday that the family was "deeply saddened and disappointed" when the Abu Sayyaf backed out of the deal.

The Abu Sayyaf group, which Washington has linked to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, al-Qaida, has earned millions of dollars by kidnapping foreigners and Philippine residents.

More than 3,000 U.S. troops are helping the Philippine army train to fight terrorism. Around 1,000 American soldiers are holding exercises on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, home of the Abu Sayyaf.

Also Thursday, the Philippine government announced it had struck a deal with the country's largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, to control kidnapping syndicates in the south.

The governor of the southern region of Mindanao, Parouk Hussin, has said he does not think there are any links between the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim separatists groups in the southern Philippines.

"This is basically domestic in nature. There are still some people trying to destabilize something. People with their own agenda, and, of course, radical elements that are still very much rampant in most places in Mindanao," Mr. Parouk said.

Thursday, Philippine soldiers killed two suspected members of another Muslim separatist group, and injured 10 others. Troops chased the suspected rebels, who fled to a nearby evacuation center on the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

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