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Rescued American Hostage Leaves the Philippines for Home

In the Philippines, a U.S. missionary who was rescued from Muslim guerrillas Friday has left for home. Gracia Burnham thanked her rescuers and expressed support for the operation in which her husband and a Philippine hostage were killed.

Former hostage Gracia Burnham Monday told reporters before leaving Manila that she is returning to the United States to put her life back together. But she said part of her heart will always stay with the Philippine people and she urges the government to pursue the Abu Sayyaf rebels who abducted her. "During our ordeal, we were repeatedly lied to by the Abu Sayyaf and they are not men of honor. They should be treated as common criminals," she said. "We support all efforts of the government in bringing these men to justice."

Ms. Burnham's husband, Martin, and Philippine nurse, Ediborah Yap, were killed in the gun battle that erupted when Philippine troops attacked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in Zamboanga del Norte province, some 800 kilometers south of Manila.

The Burnhams were abducted more than a year ago while vacationing on a resort island. Ms. Yap was abducted from a hospital near the rebels' stronghold on Basilan Island a few days later. Scores of other hostages abducted in these raids were either killed or were later released for ransom. The remains of Ms. Yap were returned home Sunday. Those of Mr. Burnham are to be flown to the United States in a few days.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the military to launch a new mission against the Abu Sayyaf and pledges to eliminate them. We will have to finish this war because terrorism is a scourge upon the earth and we must obliterate it so that we can move [on] and win the battle against poverty, which is the most important battle in our country," she said.

The deaths of the two hostages brought criticism upon the Philippine military. But a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Frank Janista, said the U.S. government backs the Philippine forces and has no plans to open an investigation into the deaths. "The United States blames Abu Sayyaf for the deaths and we salute efforts of the Philippine forces to track down the Abu Sayyaf and rescue, in this case, Gracia Burnham from the clutches of these terrorists," he said.

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Francis Ricciardone Monday reaffirmed the U.S. government is committed to helping Philippine forces deal with the rebel group, which advocates an Islamic state in southern Philippines but has become known primarily for kidnapping for ransom.

Nearly 1,000 U.S. troops are equipping and advising Philippine forces that are pursuing the Abu Sayyaf.