Russia identifies 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 crime, Medvedev said the assassin of the prize-winning campaigner for rights group Memorial was now the target of an international hunt.

"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 said in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

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

Memorial was left deeply unimpressed by Medvedev's unexpected announcement.

The acclaimed group said last week it has information that the only suspect in the probe is Alkhazur Bashayev, a militant killed by security forces in Chechnya last November.

"I do not understand what is being talking about," Memorial's chief Oleg Orlov told the Interfax news agency.

"If we are talking about Alkhazur Bashayev how can he be the target of a search? Bashayev has been killed."

Merkel, meanwhile, called on Russia to "find the truth" and solve Estemirova's killing.

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.

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 there has been no sign of progress.

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.

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."

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.

Memorial had already last week cast severe doubt on the notion that Bashayev was the culprit. Orlov on Thursday described it as a "very doubtful version, it's comfortable for the authorities."

Fellow Memorial official Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya said that Medvedev could have been referring to a possible accomplice of Bashayev, Interfax said.

The authorities have yet to officially confirm if the dead militant is a suspect in the probe.

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".

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 Thursday evening.

© 2010 AFP

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