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Islamist Militants Behead 2 Civilians in Philippines

Philippine officials said Saturday that Islamist militants have beheaded at least two civilian men on a remote southern island.

A marine commander on Basilan island, Eugene Clemen, said suspected members of the armed rebel group Abu Sayyaf abducted two loggers Friday near the town of Maluso. He said the hostages were later executed.

Officials believe the victims were beheaded in retaliation for a government offensive launched against the rebels earlier this month.

The government had sent troops to the area after militants earlier executed three other people. Suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels abducted three villagers for ransom on May 27. Official say the hostages were killed because the ransom was not paid.

Reports of the beheading come as the Philippines marks its 112th independence day.

Outgoing President Gloria Arroyo Saturday praised her government's fight against terrorism.

The southern Philippines has been the scene of ethnic violence for decades as Abu Sayyaf and other militant groups fight for an independent Muslim homeland on the island of Mindanao.

Abu Sayyaf is linked to the regional terrorist network, Jemaah Islamiah. It has staged high-profile attacks, kidnappings and bombings in the past decade.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.