The soldiers were travelling in a military truck when they hit a remote-controlled land mine in Shatoi in the southern region of the troubled province.

Seconds later, the Chechen fighters then hurled hand grenades and sprayed the disabled truck with bullets from automatic weapons.

The truck had been at the head of a military convoy returning to its base through the mountains of southern Chechnya, a stronghold of the rebel fighters.

While some of the soldiers died in the landmine blast others were shot dead in the ensuing ambush.

Though Russian troops have been battling Chechen fighters since 1999, they have had only limited success in quelling their separatist rebellion.

Moscow is pushing ahead with a peace plan to end the conflict in the mainly Muslim province. The plan began with a referendum in March and envisages local leadership elections for the province in October.

But recent attacks blamed on the Chechen fighters, including suicide bombing at an open air rock festival in Moscow last week, have undermined the peace plan.

Despite being outgunned and outnumbered, Chechen fighters have been using surprise ambushes with startling effects, inflicting substantial losses on the Russian forces.

The plight of the Chechen people was recently highlighted in a human rights report which severely criticised the Russian government's handling of the region.