Minister accuses AzG of 'endangering' aid workers

24th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

24 June 2004, AMSTERDAM — Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot has accused international humanitarian aid group Artsen zonder Grenzen (AzG) of potentially endangering other aid workers by revealing too much about a ransom that was paid to secure the release of Dutchman Arjan Erkel.

24 June 2004

AMSTERDAM — Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot has accused international humanitarian aid group Artsen zonder Grenzen (AzG) of potentially endangering other aid workers by revealing too much about a ransom that was paid to secure the release of Dutchman Arjan Erkel.

In April, Erkel, 34, head of the AzG mission in the Russian Republic Dagestan, was released when EUR 1 million was paid to a shadowy group who had snatched him 20 months earlier.

His release was apparently secured by former KGB officers drafted in by AzG to negotiate on the organisation's behalf.

As the aid group only had EUR 250,000 available for the ransom, the Dutch Foreign Ministry advanced the remaining EUR 750,000 on the understanding it would be repaid.

But on 3 May, Thomas Linde, the director of AzG — also known as Doctors Without Borders — indicated that he did not think the aid organisation should have to repay the full amount owed.

Bot told Parliament in a letter this week that AzG was offering to repay just EUR 375,000 of the EUR 750,000 on the basis that the Foreign Ministry had to bear some responsibility for the safety of Dutch citizens.

The Dutch official position has always been and remains that the government does not negotiate with kidnappers and terrorists. Bot emphasises that his department was not involved in the negotiations in the Erkel case.

Bot said he "regretted" that the aid group had made so many details about the case and securing Erkel's release public, as this could damage the position of other aid workers in risk regions around the world.

Publicity about AzG's stance has damaged its fundraising efforts. In a letter sent to its financial donors on Wednesday, the group outlined how it got involved in paying the ransom and insists there was a question of principle at stake.

The group said it would not repay the ministry as this would suggest it was accepting responsibility for Erkel's kidnapping and release, thereby freeing the Netherlands and Russia from responsibility for aid workers.

[© Novum Nieuws 2004]

Subject: Dutch news + Arjan Erkel

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