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Bush Expresses Sadness Over Killing of Hostages in Philippines - 2002-06-07


President Bush has expressed his condolences over the deaths of American and Philippine hostages killed during a raid by Philippine troops who were trying to free them from Muslim rebels. Mr. Bush telephoned Philippine President Gloria Arroyo Friday morning to discuss the situation.

President Bush says President Arroyo vowed to prosecute Abu Sayyaf rebels who kidnapped the hostages more than a year ago.

"She assured me that the Philippine government would hold the terrorist group accountable for how they treated these Americans, that justice would be done," he stressed.

Mr. Bush added that the U.S. State Department will look into the events surrounding the rescue effort, which led to the death of American hostage Martin Burnham and Philippine nurse Deborah Yap. It is not yet clear if the hostages were killed by the rebels of died in the crossfire during the army rescue.

Mr. Burnham's wife, Gracia, was wounded along with several Philippine soldiers who were taken to a military hospital.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States does not blame President Arroyo for Mr. Burnham's death, saying in a written statement that the "tragedy transpired despite the best efforts of the government of the Philippines to secure a safe release of the hostages."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Abu Sayyaf rebels who are thought to have connections with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

"The Abu Sayyaf terrorists have kidnapped these people," he said. "They've held them for over a year under cruel conditions. They've rejected all appeals for their release."

Officials say U.S. troops in the Philippines as part of a counter-terrorism training program were not involved in the rescue effort but did help evacuate the wounded.

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