May 11, 2003

Doctors Without Borders Welcomes News; Demands More Be Done to Secure His Release

Geneva/Moscow, May 12, 2003 – Nine months after the kidnapping of Arjan Erkel, Head of Mission in Northern Caucasus, Russian investigators have assured the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) that Arjan Erkel is alive. However, where he is being kept, who abducted him and for what reason remains a mystery which is an unbearable situation for Arjan's family and MSF alike.

"Recently, we have had several meetings with Dagestani and Russian officials working on the case of Arjan. They have confirmed to MSF, that according to their investigations, Arjan is alive. However, since they do not know where he is, clearly, they are in no position to give any guarantees for his security. For the sake of Arjan decisive, progress in this case has to be made rapidly. For this reason, we once again call upon President Putin to use all his powers to help secure a positive resolution to this case," states Morten Rostrup, MD, MSF international president.

Arjan Erkel, 33, was abducted by three gunmen on August 12, 2002, in Makhachkala, capital of the Federal Republic of Dagestan.

Until now, investigators have failed to establish Arjan's whereabouts or the reasons for his detention. MSF believes that strong political will from the highest Russian authorities is crucial in bringing about the safe release of Arjan. However, MSF's repeated requests for a meeting with the presidential administration to discuss this matter have, until now, been denied.

"President Vladimir Putin should be doing everything in his power to help secure Arjan's release. Until Arjan is released, it will remain difficult to believe that there is a real commitment in the Kremlin to humanitarian values and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Northern Caucasus," says Dr. Rostrup.

Arjan Erkel is today the only foreign humanitarian worker remaining kidnapped in the Caucasus. As long as he is abducted, a part of the humanitarian ideal in the Russian Federation also remains in captivity. Unfortunately, Arjan's case has not been the only one in the North Caucasus region: for months, the humanitarian community has been the target of threats and repeated kidnappings. In 2002 alone, there were at least four instances of aid workers having been taken hostage.

"Kidnappings of civilians, including abducting aid workers, are heinous crimes. In the later case - apart from endangering the physical and mental integrity of an individual who intended to help victims of armed conflict - the fear of further aggressions paralyzes the aid community to a considerable extent. Again, the civilian population has to pay the price. As long as a climate of terror is reigning in the Caucasus, it is, indeed, an illusion to believe that human suffering can be effectively countered," adds Dr. Rostrup.

Until Arjan is freed, MSF will continue to gather petition signatures to demand from the Russian authorities that they live up to their responsibilities and secure his release. Doctors Without Borders Welcomes News; Demands More Be Done to Secure His Release

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