Arrests reported in Arjan kidnap case
30 March 2004
AMSTERDAM — Three people have confessed to their involvement in the kidnapping of Dutch aid worker Arjan Erkel in Dagestan almost two years ago, it was reported Tuesday.
The Dagestan Minister of the Interior, Adilgerei Magomedtagirov, revealed the arrest of the suspects during an interview with Russian newspaper Novaja Gazeta, Dutch paper Algemeen Dagblad reported.
The minister also claimed that Erkel was in the hands of “cruel” people but was still alive and healthy. He did not reveal the identity of the people allegedly in custody or what role they are supposed to have played in the abduction.
Magomedtagirov’s comments come days after Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot called publicly on Russia to do “everything humanly possible” to secure Erkel’s swift and safe release.
Erkel, 34, was head of mission for Artsen zonder Grenzen, or Doctors without Borders, in Dagestan — a constituent republic of the Russian Federation — when several gunmen forced him into a car in the capital Machatsjkala in August 2002.
The aid organisation — best known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) — suspended its work on behalf of refugees from the republic’s war torn neighbour Chechnya after the abduction.
It was reported last year that the authorities had been in contact with the kidnappers and that Erkel was still alive.
It is unclear if a ransom has been officially demanded, but Erkel requested in a videotape sent to the Dutch embassy in Moscow mid-2003 that a ransom be paid to his kidnappers.
But it has also been alleged that the abduction was politically-motivated and that Erkel might have been taken on the orders of security officials who wrongly suspected him of spying for the Americans.
The Russian Navy was holding a high-profile exercise in the area at the time.
The head of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Jean-Herve Bradol used the occasion of Erkel’s birthday earlier this month to directly accuse Russian officials of being involved in holding Erkel.
Bradol said his kidnapping was aimed at “silencing those criticising conditions in neighbouring Chechnya”.
“Dagestan and federal officials are implicated in kidnapping affairs … We do not make these comments lightly … Some very powerful people are involved, including parliamentarians. Everyone knows that,” Bradol said.
Bradol also said Erkel was suffering from an unknown illness and that MSF was extremely concerned about his welfare.
Erkel’s father said at the time that he was disconcerted by MSF’s decision to go public with the accusations as the family had asked for a minimal amount of publicity on Arjan’s birthday.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch News + Arjan Erkel