GROZNY, July 17 (RIA Novosti) - Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has called allegations that he was responsible for the murder of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova "unethical."
Estemirova, who had been investigating kidnappings and disappearances in Chechnya for the Russian human rights group Memorial, was abducted on Wednesday morning in Grozny. Her body was found later in the day in neighboring Ingushetia, the apparent victim of an execution style shooting.
Kadyrov, 32, was responding to a statement by Memorial's director on the group's website.
"I know who is guilty of Natalya's murder. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov," Oleg Orlov said. He also claimed in an interview with Radio Liberty that the Chechen leader had once told the activist that "I'm up to my elbows in blood. That's how it is. I'm not ashamed of that."
"You are not a prosecutor or a judge, and so your statements about my guilt are, to put it mildly, unethical and insulting to me," Kadyrov told Orlov in a telephone conversation, the Chechen president's press service informed RIA Novosti.
"I am certain that you should think about my rights before you announce to the world that I am guilty of Estemirova's death," the former boxer said.
The Chechnya Segodnya news agency reported that Orlov had replied that he had not accused Kadyrov personally of her death, but had meant that, as president, he was responsible for crime in the republic, which saw two brutal separatist wars in the 1990s and early 2000s.
"These criminals are being sought by the whole Chechen Republic," Kadyrov went on. "A defenseless, innocent woman has been killed. We will do everything to shed light on this."
Kadyrov told journalists on Wednesday evening that "a search for the criminals will be carried out not only during an official investigation, but also unofficially, according to Chechen traditions." He did not give further details.
Estemirova had earlier worked with journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in Moscow in October 2006, and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who was killed in the Russian capital in January of this year. Both Politkovskaya and Markelov had been involved in investigations into human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Kadyrov, who fought against federal forces in the first Chechen war before switching sides in 1999, has been president of Chechnya since February 2007. His father and former Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov was killed in a terrorist bomb attack in Grozny in May 2004.
In his phone conversation with Orlov, Kadyrov also said he supported the work of Memorial in Chechnya, calling "the defense of the rights of our citizens our common goal."
Kadyrov and his personal security service have frequently been accused of abductions by human rights groups. His critics have also claimed he has encouraged a "cult of personality" in the republic.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed claims that Kadyrov was behind the murder as "primitive."
"As for the theories, I believe that those who committed this crime expected that the theories most primitive and unacceptable to the authorities would be put forward immediately," Medvedev said on Thursday at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Munich.
Medvedev also said "it is obvious that her murder was directly connected with her professional activities."
Russia's North Caucasus has seen an upsurge in violence of late, despite the Kremlin's decision to end its 10-year counter terrorism operation in Chechnya.