Russia identifies rights activist's killer: Medvedev

15th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia has identified the killer of rights activist Natalya Estemirova, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday, exactly one year after her murder in the Caucasus.

Responding to criticism that Russia has been slow to find the truth behind the murder, Medvedev said the assassin was now the target of an international hunt and the investigation was looking for the mastermind of the killing.

"The perpetrator of this murder -- the killer -- has been uncovered and definitively identified. He is on an international wanted list," said Medvedev at a summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"Now an investigation is under way not only to establish the killer, who is the target of a search, but also the one who ordered this terrible crime."

He did not give further details on the identities of the individuals.

Merkel called on Russia to "find the truth" and solve Estemirova's killing, one year to the day after the rights campaigner for prize-winning Russian rights group Memorial was murdered in the Caucasus.

Memorial activists have accused the authorities of seeking to obscure the search for Estemirova's killers and ignoring any leads that could point to the involvement of security structures in the Caucasus region of Chechnya.

But Medvedev hit back at the criticism, saying: "It is wrong to say there is no investigation. The probe is going full force."

"There are no quick results in this, unless the person is caught red-handed," he said, speaking at a press conference alongside Merkel in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

Estemirova, 50, was abducted outside her home in the Chechen capital of Grozny before her corpse was found hours later riddled with bullet holes in neighbouring Ingushetia on July 15, 2009.

Memorial's chief Oleg Orlov was charged with libel earlier this month in a criminal investigation into his allegations last year that the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, was responsible for Estemirova's murder.

The controversial Kadyrov angrily dismissed the allegations and in turn has described Memorial as "enemies of the people".

Her murder was the latest in a series of killings of rights defenders and critical reporters in Russia, most notably the 2006 shooting of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

That crime is also yet to be solved after almost four years of investigation. After a much criticised legal process, Russia last year announced a new search for her killers but no evident progress has been made.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called for "swift results" in the Estemirova investigation and said the bloc worried about the "worsening of the situation of human rights defenders" in the Caucasus.

"The European Union strongly encourages the authorities of the Russian Federation to work towards putting an end to the climate of impunity and fear in the North Caucasus in general and Chechnya in particular," she said.

Nicola Duckworth of Amnesty International said Russia has "yet to ensure that the investigation into the murder of Natalya Estemirova is timely, effective and impartial and that it can establish the truth beyond any doubt."

"Anything less raises concerns that there is no political will to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice," she said in a statement.

Despite the international resonance of the crime, the anniversary of Estemirova's murder is being marked modestly in Russia with Memorial organising a small gathering in central Moscow later on Thursday.

© 2010 AFP

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