Russian rights activist kidnapped, found dead
* Chechen rights campaigner's body discovered in Ingushetia
* Was close friend of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya
* Natalia Estemirova seized outside home early Wednesday
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MOSCOW, July 15 (Reuters) - A prominent human rights activist kidnapped in Russia's troubled Muslim republic of Chechnya on Wednesday has been found dead in woodland, the Interior Ministry in neighbouring Ingushetia said.
Natalia Estemirova, a close friend of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, worked for the human rights organisation Memorial in the Chechen capital Grozny and documented abuses by law enforcement agencies, colleagues said. Her murder is the latest in a series of killings of journalists and human rights defenders in Russia which has drawn international condemnation and led to questions about President Dmitry Medvedev's promises to uphold the rule of law.
"The body had two wounds to the head, it was clear she had been murdered in the morning," Madina Khadziyeva, a spokeswoman at the Ingush Interior Ministry, told Reuters. She did not specify the nature of the injuries.
Estemirova's body was found in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia near the major city of Nazran, she added.
She was snatched as she left her house on Wednesday morning, pushed into a white vehicle and driven away, Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Reuters.
When she failed to turn up for scheduled meetings later in the day, friends raised the alarm.
Well-known to diplomats and human rights activists in Russia, Estemirova was the inaugural recipient in 2007 of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, given by the charity Reach All Women in War (RAWinWAR).
A fluent Chechen speaker, Estemirova acted as Politkovskaya's interpreter during her reporting trips to Chechnya, RAWinWAR said on its website. She also reported on the situation freelance for local media.
A lone assailant gunned down Politkovskaya in her Moscow apartment building in 2006 as she returned home from a shopping trip. Nobody has yet been convicted of her murder.
Chechnya and the nearby Muslim republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan are home to a simmering low-level Islamist insurgency. Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the authorities of serious abuses during their war on the insurgents, including extra-judicial killings, torture and illegal punishment.
"During the armed conflict between the Russian republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia in 1992, Natasha helped bring refugees to safety and helped free hostages," RAWinWar said on its website.
"During the first war in Chechnya, Natasha collected numerous testimonies from civilians who were tortured by the Russian forces in unofficial detention facilities".
Human Rights Watch's Lokshina accused Chechen authorities of involvement in Estemirova's abduction and murder.
"She was documenting some blatant human rights abuses that were perpetrated by Chechen security forces... There are strong grounds to believe that Chechen law enforcement agencies are behind it," said Lokshina.
Chechen authorities declined immediate comment on HRW's accusations. (Reporting by Aydar Buribayev and Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Michael Stott and Philippa Fletcher)
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