WASHINGTON (AFP) – The New York Times said Thursday it had nothing new to report on the fate of its four journalists who went missing in eastern Libya, where rebels are battling Moamer Kadhafi's forces.

"Unfortunately, we have nothing new to report," a Times spokeswoman said by email when asked by AFP if there had been any developments since the newspaper reported on Wednesday that the journalists had disappeared.

Editors at the newspaper were last in contact with the four, all experienced war correspondents, on Tuesday morning New York time, according to the Times.

The Times said it had received "second-hand reports" that members of its reporting team in the port city of Ajdabiya had been "swept up by Libyan government forces" but this could not be confirmed.

The Times said the missing journalists include Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid, a two-time winner for foreign reporting of the Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious US journalism award.

The others are Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2009 and rescued by British forces, and two photographers, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, who both have extensive experience working in the Middle East and Africa.

The White House warned Middle Eastern governments on Wednesday that American reporters should be respected.

"Our overall stand is very firm that American journalists need to be allowed to do their work, not harassed or detained," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.