MAKHACHKALA, Russia (AP) — The recent killings of two journalists from the violence-ridden Russian province of Dagestan are not connected, a regional law enforcement official said Saturday.

Television reporter Ilyas Shurpayev from Dagestan was found dead Friday in a Moscow apartment with a belt around his neck and multiple knife wounds. He had worked in Moscow for Russia's state-run Channel One television.

Later that day, the head of Dagestan's state-controlled television channel, Gadzhi Abashilov, was shot to death in the provincial capital of Makhachkala.

"This is just a coincidence; the murders are not related to each other," Shamil Guseinov, deputy police chief in Dagestan's capital, told The Associated Press.

Dagestan's information minister, Eduard Urazayev, also expressed confidence the murders were not linked. He told the AP the journalists had different principles in their work and belonged to different age groups.

Shurpayev, 32, worked for the national channel that served as a Kremlin mouthpiece and has not contradicted the official viewpoint in his reports, the minister said.

Abashilov, 58, worked mostly as a writer and newspaper editor, despite his recent appointment as head of a television station, and often confronted authorities in his controversial articles, Urazayev said.

Dagestan lies between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea. It has been destabilized by frequent attacks on officials, some of them linked to militants with ties to Chechen rebels and others rooted in clan struggle and criminal violence.

More than a dozen journalists have been slain in contract-style killings in Russia since 2000.

Many appear to have been targeted for beatings and killings because of their attempts to dig into allegations of corruption. The killers have rarely been found.

Critics say Russia has witnessed a steady rollback of media and political freedoms during President Vladimir Putin's eight-year presidency. Top independent television stations have been shut down and print media have also felt growing official pressure.

In October 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who won international acclaim for her reporting of the kidnapping and killing of civilians in Chechnya, was gunned down in the entryway of her Moscow apartment building.

Putin and other Russian officials have cast her slaying as a plot to discredit Russia and its leadership, saying the investigation would lead to a mastermind abroad. Politkovskaya's colleagues have dismissed that theory.