MOSCOW (AP) _ Unidentified gunmen abducted four Russian journalists in Chechnya, the latest in a string of kidnappings in the secessionist territory.

A correspondent for the ITAR-Tass news agency, two reporters for state-run Radio Russia and their satellite phone operator where forced out of their car at gunpoint Tuesday night in the Chechen capital, Grozny, said Leonid Osipov, duty editor at Radio Russia in Moscow.

The gunmen, who wore military fatigues, fired shots in the air and into the tires of the reporters' car.

A Chechen working as a driver and bodyguard for the reporters was not seized and alerted police. No one has claimed responsibility.

The Chechen Interior Ministry confirmed the abductions, but provided no details, ITAR-Tass reported.

Georgy Kurin, the Russian government envoy in Chechnya, met with Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev and demanded ``urgent measures'' to find the missing reporters.

The kidnap victims were identified as Nikolai Mamulashvili and Yuri Arkhipov of Radio Russia, phone operator Lev Zeltser and ITAR-Tass correspondent Nikolai Zagnoiko.

Chechnya saw a steady stream of kidnappings during the 1994-1996 war between separatist fighters and Russian troops. Russian journalists, foreign aid workers and ordinary citizens were targets.

Some of the kidnappings were carried out by rebel fighters during the war, which ended in August. But the recent abductions are believed to be the work of criminal gangs seeking ransom.

Ten days ago, Mauro Galligani, an Italian photographer working for the Mondadori publishing house, was abducted in Grozny while covering a rally. There has been no word from the kidnappers, although the Russian newspaper Izvestia predicted Wednesday they soon would demand ransom.

Trying to halt the abductions, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov last week decreed kidnappings punishable by the death penalty or 15 years imprisonment.

Maskhadov's government has had trouble stopping the armed groups and criminals that roam the mountainous republic in southern Russia. Chechen leaders consider the territory independent and run their own affairs, but Russia says it will not allow the territory to secede.

Chechnya's deputy prime minister, Movladi Udugov, said the latest abduction was carried out by forces trying to undermine negotiations between Moscow and Chechnya, the Interfax news agency said.