SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday demanded Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov find and punish those responsible for the recent murder of two activists in the turbulent Russian region.
Kadyrov was appointed by Moscow as a bulwark against separatist rebels in the mainly Muslim province, but rights activists say he flouts federal laws and is himself responsible for much of the violence.
Rights group Memorial accused Kadyrov of organizing the kidnapping and killing of its activist Natalia Estemirova last month. This week the head of a local children's charity and her husband were found dead in the boot of a car.
"A whole sequence of political murders and assassination attempts have the aim of destabilizing the situation in the Caucasus," Medvedev said at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a sharp critic of the Kremlin's treatment of opposition activists.
"The president of the Chechen republic should do everything he can to find and expose those responsible," he said.
Violence involving Islamist rebels and law-enforcement has soared in recent months in Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia. Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was seriously injured in a bomb attack in June.
The Islamist insurgents responsible for much of the violence "receive support and resources, including from foreign sources," Medvedev said.
Chechen authorities say insurgents following the Wahabist form of Islam receive support from international Islamist groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda.
Merkel, standing alongside Medvedev after talks in the resort town of Sochi focusing on trade and investment, condemned the "horrific" murder of children's charity head Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband in Chechnya earlier this week.
"This is unfortunately a serious subject which we have to deal with time and again at many meetings," Merkel said.
"I made clear that we obviously condemn this in the strongest terms, just like the Russian side," she added.
Russia, a vast country stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific and embracing dozens of nationalities with their own territorial sensitivities, has a keen interest in establishing order in its volatile North Caucasus region.
Growing separatist violence in the Caucasus has implications for Moscow's broader efforts to assert firm central control.