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Arjan Erkel Is Still Being Held Hostage After One Year

One year after Aid Worker's kidnapping, MSF considers the investigation to be a failure, and calls for more action by the Russian authorities tosecure Arjan's safe release.

Moscow/Geneva, August 12, 2003 - It has been one year since Arjan Erkel, a volunteer for the humanitarian medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), was abducted in Makhatchkala, the capital of the Russian Republic of Dagestan. MSF expresses its indignation about Arjan's continued captivity.

"It is a scandal that after one year, our colleague Arjan Erkel is still detained," said Dr. Morten Rostrup, International President of MSF. "This can only be attributed to the mishandling of the investigation and a lack of commitment by Russian authorities. The presence of two intelligence agents at the scene of the abduction, and the fact that they stood by while Arjan was kidnapped, should surely increase their motivation to resolve this case. However, to our dismay, the investigation was halted in November 2002 and only reopened in May 2003. We were not told of this but instead authorities kept assuring us they were doing everything to secure Arjan's release."

During the European Union summit St. Petersburg, Russia in May 2003, President Putin made public assurances to the Dutch Prime minister that Russian services would be deployed to resolve the case, but no results have been forthcoming. MSF believes that Russian authorities must again be reminded of their legal responsibility to secure Arjan's immediate and safe release.

MSF is also disappointed by the reserved attitude of the Dutch government towards Russian political authorities. More generally, the support provided by the international community, in particular key Western governments, has lacked intensity.

"It is difficult to understand why governments have been so reluctant over the past year to hold the Russian authorities accountable for their lack of commitment in resolving this case," Rostrup said.

To MSF, Arjan Erkel is a symbol of "humanitarianism at risk" in the Northern Caucasus. The whole humanitarian community has become a hostage to the climate of violence and insecurity prevailing in the region.

MSF today calls on Russian authorities and the international community to multiply their efforts to bring Arjan back to his family, friends and colleagues.