Sulu 'quiets down' after weeklong clashes

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Troops have cordoned off the area to block escape routes.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Almost a week after fighting broke out, the situation has simmered down between the military and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told CNN Philippines that the bandits seemed to be avoiding contact with the soldiers.

"Everything seems to have quieted down," Padilla said on Thursday early evening.

Related: Duterte: Abu Sayyaf can be crushed in a week

But the troops remained on alert, according to Padilla, strategically positioned to cordon off and block possible escape routes of the lawless elements.

He added that members of the media were told not to wander off and to stay close with the soldiers for their safety.

Padilla said the hostages had been distributed among groups and there were no indications that the bandits were going to negotiate and lay down their arms.

One thing that's making the situation difficult, he said, was that some of the communities were sympathizing with the ASG. However, the military could count on the full support of the local government units — especially in taking care of the 5,000 evacuees.

The spate of clashes began last Friday, with the military taking a heavy toll last Monday with 15 soldiers killed.

Text messages: false alarm

Meanwhile, a number of towns — Jolo, Patikul and Talipao — had to call off the day's classes because students were afraid to go to school.

The fear stemmed from text messages, purportedly from the ASG, saying the bandits would be attacking military camps and civilian communities.

school in Sulu.png Some schools were empty after text messages about an attack scared off the students.  

But as it turned out, there was no breakout of violence for the day. Even traders went with their business as usual.

The provincial governor said there was no truth to the text messages — and to speculations about declaring martial rule in the province.

Padilla said the military was validating the supposed messages but he said he believed these did not come from the bandit leader, Radullan Sahiron.

CNN Philippines' David Santos contributed to this report.