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Top Russia Activist Killed in Caucasus: Officials

John D. Sutter

Picture released by Russian human rights organization Memorial shows Natalya Estemirova in the Chechen capital of Grozny in 2004. Estemirova, a prize-winning Russian human rights activist Estemirova, has been found dead in Ingushetia after being abducted earlier in the neighbouring region of Chechnya, news agencies reported.

MOSCOW - One of the top human rights activists
in Russia's turbulent North Caucasus region was found murdered on
Wednesday hours after she was abducted from her home in Chechnya,
officials said.

activist Natalya Estemirova worked for the leading Russian rights group
Memorial which has exposed a string of abuses in the conflict-torn

Her corpse, which showed signs of a violent death, was
found at 5:20 pm (1320 GMT) near the city of Nazran in Ingushetia, the
region neighbouring Chechnya, ITAR-TASS news agency said, citing the
regional interior ministry.

According to preliminary information "she was shot dead", the agency's source added.

Interfax news agency quoted the spokesman for the investigative
committee of Russian prosecutors, Vladimir Markin, as saying that
documents confirming her identity had been found on the corpse.

Memorial rights group had said in a statement earlier that Estemirova
"was forcefully taken from her house into a car and shouted that she
was being kidnapped" at 8:30 am (0430 GMT) in the Chechen capital

Memorial said that Estemirova had planned a number of
meetings on Wednesday, including a joint trip with the Chechen interior
ministry. "But she did not appear at the appointed places and she did
not telephone."

Estemirova was one of the main Caucasus-based
activists for Memorial, an organisation acclaimed worldwide for its
uncovering of rights abuses and studies of distortions of history in

In 2007 she was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya prize --
named after the murdered journalist -- by the Nobel Women's Initiative,
a group established by female Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

She had also received awards from the Swedish and European parliaments, Memorial said.

"Chechen authorities had expressed dissatisfaction with her work more than once," Memorial said.

The statement from Memorial did not give any indication of who might have carried out the abduction.

earlier this year ended a 10-year "counter-terrorism" operation in
Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region riven by two separatist wars since the
1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Chechnya and other parts
of the Russian Caucasus remain the site of a deadly insurgency led by
Islamist militants against the pro-Kremlin local authorities, who in
turn have been accused of abuses in fighting the rebels.

have grown in the last weeks about the stability of the Caucasus after
Ingushetia's leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was seriously wounded in a car
bombing on June 22.

Security forces are being killed in clashes
with militants on an almost daily basis and last week 10 Chechen police
officers were killed in a militant ambush in Ingushetia.

and Human Rights Watch had earlier this month issued a hard-hitting
report accusing Chechen security forces of punishing families of
alleged militants by burning down their homes.

Meanwhile, the
authorities have failed to secure any convictions over the 2006 killing
in Moscow of Politkovskaya, who exposed abuses by Russian security
forces in Chechnya and vehemently criticised the Kremlin.

has also not solved the January murders of young journalist Anastasia
Baburova and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov who were gunned
down in central Moscow as they left a news conference.

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