Arjan Erkel: EU presidency to intervene with Russian Government

Brussels/Geneva - On October 22, in a session of the European Parliament, Franco Frattini, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that he will intervene with the Russians regarding the liberation of Arjan Erkel, the MSF Head of mission in Dagestan, who was kidnapped on August 12, 2002. Italy currently holds the presidency of the European Union (EU). The Italian presidency of the EU will have the opportunity to raise the case of Arjan Erkel with the Russian authorities during the next EU-Russian summit, which will include the situation in Chechnya, in Rome, on November 6, 2003. In this light, during the session held yesterday in Strasbourg, MEP Bart Staes said that the declaration made by Frattini was "a message of hope" and asked the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister to raise the case of Arjan also during his conversation with Mr. Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, on October 28. During an official visit to Switzerland ten days ago, Igor Ivanov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that Arjan was alive and that Russia was doing everything possible to secure his release. Since May 2003, the Russian authorities have assured MSF that Arjan is alive. MSF has been shown two separate proofs of life. The first proof of life was sent to Dutch officials at the end of March, more than seven months after the date of the abduction. This first proof of life consisted of two photos and two handwritten letters from Arjan. At the end of July, a second proof that Arjan was alive was received. On January 16, 2003, the European Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg passed a first resolution calling upon the "Russian Government to pursue maximum efforts to secure the early release of Mr. Erkel, a humanitarian MSF worker, who remains kidnapped in the region". In the plenary session of July 3, 2003, the European Parliament called upon "the Russian authorities to step up their efforts to find and free Arjan Erkel".