MOSCOW (Reuters) - The murder of a prominent Chechen human rights worker in July has raised fears of terrorism in the troubled region and her death must be solved, an envoy for Europe's human rights body has said.
"It seems to be absolutely crucial that the case of Natalya Estemirova be clarified because it has created an atmosphere of fear," Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, told reporters.
"It is not, neither in Ingushetia nor in Chechnya, calm and peaceful. Terrorism has again affected the climate and the atmosphere," he said after visiting the two regions in southern Russia.
A series of suicide bomb attacks and armed assaults on police and security forces in Chechnya, where Russia has fought two separatist wars, and nearby Ingushetia and Daghestan have shattered a few years of relative calm in the North Caucasus.
Regional leaders have said an Islamist insurgency has permeated all spheres of society.
Estemirova, who worked for rights group Memorial, was abducted near her house in Chechnya on July 15, shot dead and her body dumped in Ingushetia.
The incident drew worldwide condemnation and a pledge by Russia's president to find the killers, but so far investigations have yielded little result.
Since her murder, nongovernmental organizations have been too horrified to operate there, Hammarberg said. "Full protection needs to be given to other human rights defenders," he said.
Hammarberg, echoing comments by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ingush leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, said a lack of discipline within law enforcement agencies meant crimes went unpunished.
The Swedish envoy said Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist, assured him unsolved murders and disappearances would be solved, but more needs to be done.
Vast unemployment -- in Ingushetia, it stands at more than half the population -- also makes it "possible for extremists to attract recruits," he said.
He also expressed worry that Moscow does not fully understand the deep resentment Chechens with missing relatives have against authorities. Thousands of people are still missing from the two wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, he said.
"A deep bitterness amongst the population is worsening the situation," he said, calling for DNA tests to identify those found in unmarked graves and provide some comfort to families who have waited years for information.