AUGUST 12, 2002-DECEMBER 25, 2003 ARJAN ERKEL, 500 DAYS IN CAPTIVITY. STILL MISSING

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS HEAD OF MISSION ABDUCTED MORE THAN 16 MONTHS AGO IN THE NORTHERN CAUCASUS

New York/Geneva, December 25, 2003 - Arjan Erkel, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Head of Mission in the Northern Caucasus, has spent 500 days in captivity since he was kidnapped on the night of August 12, 2002, in the Russian Federation. Arjan Erkel, a 33-year-old Dutch man, was abducted by three armed gunmen in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a Russian republic neighbouring Chechnya.

"500 days in detention without knowing what will happen the next day, without being sure that he will leave his prison alive one day is an unimaginable ordeal. We call once again upon all parties of good will to release Arjan now," says Thomas Nierle, MD, MSF Switzerland's Operations Director.

Since the day of the kidnapping, MSF has received proof that Arjan Erkel is alive. The latest dates to the end of July 2003, when MSF was shown a picture of Arjan Erkel. Since then, MSF has also continually been told by sources that Arjan is alive. This was confirmed by Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov on October 13, 2003, during an official visit to Switzerland. Igor Ivanov also said that Russia was doing everything possible to secure his release.

International organizations such as the United Nations, as well as the European Parliament and the European Commission, have repeatedly expressed their concern about the fate of Arjan Erkel. World leaders have personally intervened on his behalf. Over 380,000 individuals worldwide have signed a petition to the President of Russia expressing their dismay about the fate of Arjan Erkel.

Despite all these efforts, Arjan Erkel, who has been working with MSF since 1994, is still the only foreign humanitarian worker remaining in captivity in the Northern Caucasus.