Birthday of Doctors Without Borders Volunteer Marked by Worldwide Calls for His Release

Russian authorities unwilling to assume their responsibilities

New York/Geneva, March 7, 2003 - Nearly four weeks after MSF appealed to the Russian and Dagestani authorities to solve the kidnapping of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) volunteer Arjan Erkel, MSF is dismayed by the unwillingness of these authorities to address his case. Arjan Erkel, Head of Mission for MSF in the Northern Caucasus, was abducted by three gunmen on August 12, 2002, in Makhachkala, the capital of the Federal Republic of Dagestan.

In the seven months since the kidnapping, the Russian federal authorities supervising the investigations in Dagestan have failed to provide MSF with any information as to why or by whom Arjan was abducted or on ways to move forward to solve the case. Moreover, MSF's requests to meet with the office of the President have so far been denied.

"The lack of progress whatsoever points to the obstruction of Arjan's release. To date, the Russian authorities have not demonstrated the necessary political will to solve the case. We therefore call on them to secure the immediate release of Arjan and to live up to their responsibility to ensure the security of civilians and humanitarian workers on their territory," says Morten Rostrup, MD, MSF International President.

To mark Arjan's 33rd birthday, MSF offices worldwide will hold events on Monday, March 10 to invite the public to sign the MSF petition calling on President Putin of Russia and on Mr. Magomedov, the Chairman of the Dagestani State Council, to secure Arjan's release.

So far, over 150,000 people in Russia and around the world have signed the MSF petition, with thousands of new signatures being added each day. The petition will be delivered to Russian and Dagestani authorities in the days to come.

In the United States, the public and the media are invited to express their solidarity with Arjan and with MSF on the occasion of Arjan's birthday on Monday, March 10, in New York City at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue, between 40th and 42nd Streets), noon-2 pm and in Los Angeles at a place and time to be determined.