Skip to comments.Spy planes spot Burnhams
Posted on 04/04/2002 4:40:53 PM PST by repubmom
ZAMBOANGA CITY US spy planes have caught digital images on Basilan island of the three remaining hostages of Abu Sayyaf terrorists, who appear to have divided into small groups in a bid to escape the tightening military cordon around them.
Armed Forces Southern Command (Southcom) chief Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu ordered Marines to scour islets off the main Basilan island after Navy gunboats clashed with gunmen who were fleeing on two high-speed pumpboats.
Cimatu refused to reveal where the aerial digital photographs, showing American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipina nurse Deborah Yap, were taken but assured the public the hostages are still in Basilan.
"Oo, nandiyan pa sa Basilan ang mga Burnhams (Yes, the Burnhams are still there in Basilan)," Cimatu said even as he expressed hope the aerial pictures would be verified by the troops pursuing the bandits and their hostages.
Cimatu said intelligence reports indicate that while the Abu Sayyaf rebels have divided themselves into smaller groups in a bid to slip out of Basilan, the terrorists are also squabbling among themselves over the ransom they hope to get for the Burnhams.
He ordered the 3rd Marine Brigade deployed in the northwestern part of Basilan to scour nearby islets after the Navy clashed with the bandits off Dasalan island, one of the 10 islets of the Pilas island group that serves as a jump-off point for smugglers, pirates and rebels.
"We cannot permit them to get out of Basilan," Cimatu told 3rd Marine Brigade commander Col. Renato Miranda.
"The Abu Sayyaf has splintered into small groups and scattered themselves in different parts of Basilan to avoid detection from advancing Philippine troops," Cimatu said.
He said the spy plan brought by US forces participating in the joint RP-US "Balikatan" military exercises has been vital in the intelligence operations of the pursuing troops.
"They cannot stay in one place and, at the same time, they are now developing animosities among themselves," Cimatu added.
By Dorian Zumel Sicat
Two Army companies clashed late last night with Abu Sayyaf rebels in a remote Basilan coastal village, but military officials denied it was the start of a final push for the rescue of an American missionary couple and a Filipino nurse.
Col. Alexander Aleo, commander of the 103rd Brigade based in Basilan, said fighting started shortly after 8 p.m. in Barangay Bulanza, Lantawan town, 20 kilometers from the provincial capital of Isabela City. At least two companies of the 10th infantry battalion and dozens of para-military forcers were involved in a major encounter.
Aleo said the fighting started when Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) spotted an undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas and opened fire.
Aleo, who was on the field at press time, would not confirm a rescue was underway. He said the band involved in the firefight was led by Abu Sabaya. Another group, led by Isnilon Hapilon, holds Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipino nurse Deborah Yap, now entering their tenth month of captivity.
Aleo, however, admitted reports that a series of flights by US spy planes had spotted what looked like the main Abu Sayyaf body in Basilan.
In Zamboanga City, Reuters reported Southern Command chief, Brig. Gen. Roy Cimatu as saying US spy planes had tracked down the possible location of the Burnhams.
Cimatu told reporters the surveillance drones, coupled with other intelligence gathered, had helped locate Gracia and Martin Burnham, hostages for more than 10 months. But Cimatu said he did not want to give more details.
The officer said he had ordered ground troops to step up search and pursuit operations to prevent the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas from escaping out of southern Basilan island with the Burnhams and a third hostage, Filipino nurse Deborah Yap.
They (the Abu Sayyaf) can no longer stay in one place because of the success of our intelligence gathering, especially with the help of spy planes brought in by US forces, Cimatu told reporters.
Prayers continue for the Burnhams!
. . .no news; may well be the best news; until this nightmare is over.