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Chechnya, Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov, Dmitry Medvedev
AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Vladimir Rodionov, Presidential Press Service
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, and Chechnya's regional President Ramzan Kadyrov
seen during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Monday, June 22, 2009.

Murder of Russian Human Rights Activist Reignites Russia-Chechnya Conflict

July 16, 2009 02:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The killing of an outspoken Russian human rights activist has prompted accusations against the president of Chechnya, and reinvigorated discussion of the Russia-Chechnya conflict.

Details of Activist's Death Emerging

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On July 15, Natalia Estemirova was abducted and killed, a plot called "barbaric" and "carefully planned" by Chechnya's president Ramzan Kadyrov. Now, those who worked with Estemirova claim Kadyrov threatened the young woman only months before her murder, and say that presidential aides warned her not to continue her human rights work in Chechnya, according to Luke Harding in an article for The Guardian.

But Kadyrov shot back, promising to pursue investigations into Estemirova's death, and telling Interfax news agency that the murderers "deserve no support and must be punished as the cruellest of criminals," Harding reported.

Estemirova was entrenched in the Russia-Chechnya conflict. As the Chechnya-based head of Memorial, the oldest human rights group in Russia, she fearlessly investigated human rights stories despite facing intimidation from government officials. She had recently been involved in reports that investigated "house burnings and extra-judicial killings in Chechnya, allegedly carried out by Kadyrov's forces," Harding explained.

In a 2008 New York Times article, Estemirova described hidden graves in Chechnya. Despite the relative peacefulness of the capital, Grozny, chilling remnants of the violent conflict with Russia have been discovered beneath schools and entertainment complexes during rebuilding efforts. "We know people disappeared. We know that most of them were killed. And we know we need to look for them with a shovel," Estemirova told The Times.

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Background: The Russia-Chechnya conflict

In 1991, the Soviet Union fell and independence was declared by the Chechnya region, led by President Dzhokhar Dudayev. The Russian military moved into Chechnya three years later to overturn the movement for independence, which resulted in years of military struggle. In the first war in 1994, Russian forces were defeated, but the second war, which began in 1999 just before President Putin took office, is ongoing. Chechen President Kadyrov is pro-Kremlin, as his father was. The elder Kadyrov was assassinated for his political stance in 2004.
 
In late March, President Kadyrov announced that Russia's anti-rebel activities in Chechnya would end soon. The BBC's 2006 Q&A on the Chechen conflict explains aspects in further detail, including the possibility of the rebels' al-Qaida affiliation.

NEXT: Death of Chechen Sulim Yamadayev Is Latest Chapter in Chechnya-Russia Conflict
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