• Reuters

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Philippine soldiers have found the beheaded bodies of two Vietnamese sailors abducted a year ago by the Islamist militant Abu Sayyaf group near the restive southern island of Basilan, an army spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Six Vietnamese sailors were taken captive after Abu Sayyaf militants attacked their cargo ship in June last year, but one was rescued last month during a combat operation.

The two bodies were retrieved at about 7 a.m. Tuesday near the island’s town of Sumisip, said Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokeswoman of the Western Mindanao Command.

“Our troops found the headless bodies after local residents alerted us about the cadavers,” Petinglay told reporters, adding that the heads were found beside the bodies.

The men have been identified as Hoang Thong and Hoang Va Hai, both crew of the ship MV Royal 16, Petinglay said, adding, “We have informed the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila.”

Three more Vietnamese captives still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf are among 14 foreigners and eight Philippine citizens still held on Basilan and nearby Jolo island, Petinglay said.

Elsewhere in the southern region, intense fighting with a larger group of pro-Islamic State militants who seized Marawi City has dragged on for six weeks, killing more than 400 people, including 85 security personnel.

The dead include 39 civilians, but local officials said the number could be higher as intense fighting has denied authorities access to the center of the city.

Military planes and helicopters have been dropping bombs and firing rockets on militants occupying high-rise buildings in the city’s commercial center. Marines and army rangers fought militants in house-to-house combat to retake the city.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said there is pressure on the military to defeat the Islamist militants before a 60-day period of martial law expires July 23, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his state of the nation address in Congress.

“In my estimate, the clearing operations will take at least a week,” Lorenzana said Tuesday, adding that the enemy’s resistance is waning as troops gain control of more strategic positions.

Lorenzana said the Philippines last week sent a military plane to the United States to acquire an unspecified number and type of bombs and rockets intended to replenish the country’s weapons stockpile, which is being depleted by almost daily bombings in Marawi.

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