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Manila - The death toll in a week-long siege of a southern Philippine city by Muslim rebels has reached 62, with tens of thousands of residents displaced, the military said on Monday.
Most of the fatalities - 51 people - were members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has occupied several areas of Zamboanga City, 875 kilometres south of Manila, since September 9, said Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan, a military spokesman.
Another 63 MNLF fighters have been arrested or have surrendered, while three soldiers, three police officers and five civilians have been killed in the stand-off, he added.
More than 67 000 people have fled their homes in fear of being caught in the crossfire, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The rebels have also been setting houses on fire in a bid to block any military offensive.
The fighting erupted when around 200 armed MNLF rebels gathered for a protest march in the centre of the bustling port city of more than 800 000 people to denounce the government's alleged failure to implement a 1996 peace agreement.
The Philippine government is currently finalising details of a preliminary peace deal to create a new autonomous Muslim region by 2016. The deal was signed in October with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which broke off from the MNLF in 1978. - Sapa-dpa