28 May 2004
AMSTERDAM — The Dutch government confirmed Friday it provided ransom money in April to secure the release of an aid worker who had been kidnapped in Dagestan for 20 months.
At a hastily-organised press conference on Friday afternoon, a spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry said money had been loaned to Arjan Erkel’s employers, Doctors without Borders, because the aid organisation could not gather the money within 24 hours as demanded by the kidnappers.
The spokesman refused to say how much money was provided to the aid organisation, Dutch public news service NOS said.
Earlier French newspaper Le Monde said the Dutch Foreign Ministry had provided EUR 1 million for the ransom and the Dutch authorities now wanted to be repaid.
An NOS correspondent in Moscow has claimed the aid group — known in the Netherlands as Artsen zonder Grenzen (AzG) — had EUR 250,000 available when the ransom demand was made. The Dutch government provided the remaining EUR 750,000 as a loan, NOS said.
At Friday’s press conference, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government wanted the aid organisation to repay it, as AzG had allegedly promised on 8 April. Erkel was freed two days later.
But AzG has indicated it will repay the money once there is more clarity about the deal that led to the captive’s release. AzG who was paid the money and under what conditions the handover was made.
Le Monde said the Dutch government does not want to discuss the details. If the aid organisation does not repay the money, the Dutch government has, Le Monde said, threatened to have AzG’s subsidies which it receives from other countries cut.
The Dutch government has continually insisted since the release that it did not pay a ransom.
But many experts on kidnapping and Erkel himself have expressed their doubts about this.
Erkel was kidnapped at gun point in the Dagestan capital Machatsjkala in August 2002. He was finally freed in April after almost 20 months of uncertainty, but the circumstances of Erkel’s release have not been fully explained.
The Russian and Dagestani authorities said they had been involved in freeing him and later a group of former KGB officers said they had been recruited to negotiate his release.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news