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Philippine VP says rebel leader OKs cease-fire

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BULLIT MARQUEZ | September 13, 2013 01:15 PM EST | AP

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — The Philippines' vice president said Friday that a Muslim rebel leader has accepted a cease-fire to allow talks on ending a five-day hostage crisis in which his followers have held more than 100 people in a southern port city.

The standoff began Monday when about 200 fighters from a Moro National Liberation Front rebel faction stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized residents. Twenty-two people, including 15 rebels, have been killed in sporadic clashes between the guerrillas and troops who have surrounded them, the military said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay said rebel leader Nur Misuari agreed to a truce late Friday by telephone, and he relayed the news to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who has been helping deal with the crisis in Zamboanga city, a major southern port city.

"The details of a peaceful settlement can be threshed out with a cease-fire in place," Binay told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that he planned to fly to Zamboanga on Saturday.

President Benigno Aquino III flew to Zamboanga earlier Friday to visit government troops and some of the 24,000 residents displaced by the violence. He warned in a speech that his government won't hesitate to use force to end the most serious security crisis his administration has faced since he came to power in 2010.

Fighting broke out again in Zamboanga's Santa Catalina village on Friday, and ABS-CBN TV reported that voices presumably of hostages were heard shouting "cease fire, cease fire!" One government soldier was reportedly wounded.

A mortar fired by the rebels landed on a street in front of the government hospital in Santa Catalina. An AP photographer near the scene saw at least six people wounded, including four Red Cross personnel and two soldiers. The wounded were rushed away on stretchers and an ambulance.

Four fires raged in different parts of Zamboanga. Officials said the rebels could be setting them as diversions.

The Moro National Liberation Front rebels have been overshadowed by a rival group in talks with the government for a new minority Muslim autonomy deal.

Misuari signed a peace deal in 1996, but the guerrillas did not lay down their arms and later accused the government of reneging on a promise to develop long-neglected Muslim regions in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The government says Misuari kept on stalling and making new demands.

Misuari has not been seen in public since the standoff began.

"There are lines they should not cross," Aquino said of the rebels. He said the government would be obligated to use "the force of the state" if those lines are crossed.

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Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano, Jim Gomez and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila contributed to this report.