Arjan returns home with 'bad kidnap memories'

13th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

13 April 2004 , AMSTERDAM — Freed Dutch aid worker Arjan Erkel returned home to the Netherlands on Sunday night, but intends to take 12 months off to come to terms with his 20 months in captivity in the Russian republic Dagestan.

13 April 2004

AMSTERDAM — Freed Dutch aid worker Arjan Erkel returned home to the Netherlands on Sunday night, but intends to take 12 months off to come to terms with his 20 months in captivity in the Russian republic Dagestan.

Arjan Erkel

Speaking at a press conference after he was given a gala welcome in his parents' southern Zeeland village Westdorpe on Monday, Erkel said he needed to deal with his "bad experiences" first, but refused to provide further details.

Flanked by his parents, family and town Mayor J.A.H. Lonink, the aid worker said his kidnappers had treated him reasonably well, public news service NOS reported. He was relocated five times, was rarely allowed outside and was forced to use a bucket as a toilet.

Erkel, 34, was head of the relief mission for organisation Artsen zonder Grenzen, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), in Dagestan — a constituent republic of the Russian Federation — when he was kidnapped in the capital Makhachkala in August 2002.

He was freed from his captors in the early hours of Sunday morning in a joint operation by the Russian federal security service, FSB, and local officers, the Interior Ministry in Dagestan said.  

Later on Sunday he was flown by special charter jet to the Russian capital Moscow. "I am very tired," Erkel said upon arrival at the airport. The slimmer, but otherwise healthy Dutchman was later reunited with his father.

Erkel was then flown to Rotterdam Airport, arriving late on Sunday night. He was greeted at the airport by his mother, other family members and Foreign Minister Ben Bot, news agency ANP reported. He and his family spent Sunday night at a secret location in Rotterdam.

Despite his ordeal, he has also said that he feels fantastic and media footage has shown him to be obviously delighted that the "nightmare" is over.

Meanwhile, the aid worker said at his Monday press conference that he had built up a reasonable bond with his kidnappers and was occasionally given books by them. The kidnappers kept him informed of world news and he was thus aware of last year's US-led invasion of Iraq.

But Erkel said he never received information about his family and never developed sympathy for his kidnappers or their demands. Despite this, he respected them because they treated him well, saying he was fed twice a day.

Prior to his press conference, Erkel was enthusiastically welcomed in the Westdorpe village at about 3pm on Monday. Hundreds of people, including dozens of school children with balloons, lined the procession route as he arrived in the town in a convertible car.

The balloons were released in the air when a band started playing Lang zal hij leven (Long shall he live). Loud cheers and applause erupted as Erkel hugged his mother and other family members at his parents' house.

Mayor Lonink also announced that the municipal council intends to name a path in a new suburb after the freed aid worker.

Erkel told the gathered public that he was still incredibly upset from all that had happened. He apologised for his difficulty in speaking his native Dutch and admitted that he is not a good speaker.

He ended his short address with the announcement that he was going to have a beer and RTL TV footage showed him seal his intention with a solid swig from a brown bottle.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news

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