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    Philippines Fighting Continues, as Cease-fire Fails

    Fighting in the southern Philippines intensified Saturday, as government troops pushed to retake Muslim rebel positions after days of clashes.

    The latest fighting appeared to shatter a cease-fire agreement the nation's Vice President, Jejomar Binay, said late Friday that he had reached with rebel leader Nur Misuari.

    The army says at least 53 people have been killed in the fighting -- 43 of them rebels.

    The standoff began Monday when rebels with the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF, stormed the port city of Zamboanga, taking scores of hostages whom officials say they used as human shields.

    The fighting displaced more than 60,000 people, with hundreds of homes set on fire.

    On Saturday, President Benigno Aquino III told residents forced to flee the city that the government will "end this crisis as soon as possible." He said fighting will still happen from time to time but that the rebels' ability to inflict chaos is diminishing.



    The MNLF has long pushed for greater autonomy in the mainly Muslim south, where a four-decade-long insurgency has killed at least 120,000 people.

    The group signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996 that led to the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. But some of its members continued to fight, claiming Manila did not hold up its end of the deal to develop the impoverished, rural region.

    Recently, MNLF founder Misuari has criticized the government's peace talks with a larger Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Fearing the negotiations may marginalize his own group's power, Misuari last month declared part of the country's south to be independent of the government.

    Under Misuari's leadership, the MNLF in 2001 carried out another attack in Zamboanga, similar to this latest one. The fighters were later allowed to leave after releasing their hostages.

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