ZAMBOANGA -- Security forces have foiled an attempt by Abu Sayyaf bandits and rouge Moro rebels to destroy a bridge in Sulu province, Marine officials said Friday.

Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo, Philippine Navy public affairs officer, said the troops were conducting area security operations along Baitamal Bridge in Indanan town on Wednesday when the Abu Sayyaf and rouge Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels attacked them around 4 p.m.

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He said a firefight, which lasted for about five minutes, ensued as the troops from the Marine Battalion Landing-5 (MBLT-5) and MBLT-6 fought back.

"At their perceived opportune time, the enemy attacked. Firefight ensued for about five minutes," Arevalo said.

Casualties were reported on both the government forces and the combined Abu Sayyaf bandits and MNLF rebels.

"The perpetrators positioned themselves more or less 200 meters south of the position of the operating government forces," Arevalo said.

He said the combined bandit-rebel attackers fled towards an MNLF camp in Sitio Marang in the village of Buansa, Indanan town.

Philippine Navy Flag-Officer-in-Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez said the troops will continue to carry out their mission in protecting government infrastructures, like the Baitamal Bridge, despite harassments from the lawless elements.

"The Navy will not be cowed but will be more vigilant by this attack that is meant to harass our operating units," Golez added.

Last year, the Abu Sayyaf bandits have bombed bridges and telecommunication infrastructures, disrupting easy access to people traveling in the province of Sulu. (Bong Garcia/Sunnex)