x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 October 2017

Two Vietnamese captives found dead in southern Philippines

The bodies of Hoang Thong and Hoang Va Hai were found by villagers in the town of Sumisip, said the military's Western Mindanao Command.

ZAMBOANGA // The decapitated bodies of two Vietnamese crewmen abducted last year by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants were found on Wednesday on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, the Philippine military said, in a gruesome end to the sailors' ordeal.

The bodies of Hoang Thong and Hoang Va Hai were found by villagers in the town of Sumisip, said the military's Western Mindanao Command. Pictures showed their decapitated heads beside their bodies.

The two were among six crewmen of the Vietnamese cargo vessel MV Royal 16 taken by gunmen last November in seawaters off Basilan amid a wave of sea assaults that have alarmed the region's leaders.

One of the six crewmen was rescued in June. Three others remain captive.

Lt Gen Carlito Galvez Jr., the military's regional commander, condoled with the families of the slain victims, saying "we grieve as we strongly condemn the barbaric beheading". The military and police have been exhausting all efforts to rescue the kidnap victims, he added.

"In no way does the Abu Sayyaf group represent our Muslim brothers who are true followers of Islam," Gen Galvez said.

Officials said the bodies will undergo forensic examination as they coordinate with the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila. Soldiers and policemen are getting more details about the incident, they added.

In February, gunmen attacked another Vietnamese cargo ship off the Philippines' southern tip, killing a Vietnamese crewman and abducting six others, including the vessel's captain, the Philippine coast guard and the ship's owner said.

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

The dead include 39 civilians, but local officials said the number could be higher as intense fighting has denied authorities access to the centre 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 centre. Marines and army rangers fought militants in house-to-house combat to retake the city.

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

"In my estimate, the clearing operations will take at least a week," he said on Tuesday, adding that the enemy's resistance was waning as troops gain control of more strategic positions.

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

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts have struggled to deal with a wave of attacks by the Abu Sayyaf and allied gunmen who target tugboats and cargo ships along their busy sea borders.

The three countries launched coordinated maritime patrols last month to intensify their fight against Islamic militants, piracy, kidnapping, terrorism and other crimes in regional waters.