CNN transcript: Kidnapped MSF worker reported very ill
This is a transcript of a programme first broadcast on March 8.
8 March 2004
SAVIDGE: A year and a half ago, a Dutch aid worker with doctors without borders was kidnapped by masked men in the Russian Republic of Dagestan. It's not known who his captors are or what they want. Doctors Without Borders has now unconfirmed information that Arjan Erkel is seriously ill. Joining me from New York is Nicholas De Torrente. He is the Executive Director of the U.S. branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres, or, Doctors Without Borders, as we know it here. Thank you, sir, for being with us this evening. NICHOLAS DE TORRENTE, MSF: Thanks for having me. SAVIDGE: Let me ask you this. I've not heard much about this kidnapping. In fact I haven't heard much at all recently. Why has it went so in the background? DE TORRENTE: There's not much information coming out about the war in Chechnya. About the fate of the civilian population there, and there's not much information and coverage about the very difficult situation for humanitarian aid workers to access the population and provide them with assistance. And that's what Arjan Erkel was doing when he was kidnapped as you say, over 18 months ago. He was running medical programs for civilians displaced by the war in Chechnya in the neighboring Republic of Dagestan. And he has been missing ever since. As you said, we've had recently received some very alarming information about his health condition. SAVIDGE: What is it you've heard specifically? DE TORRENTE: We've heard that he has a very serious pulmonary condition, a lung problem, and in an additional to that, we've also heard that there were threats against his life -- direct threats against his life by his captors. What's troubling to us is that we've not heard this before in the other 18 months that this captivity has taken place. So there's a real sense of concern, of course, for -- on our part and his family's part. But also a real sense that there needs to be much more urgency given to the efforts to ensure his release now. SAVIDGE: You believe the Russians aren't doing enough here to aid this situation. What is it they should be doing? Do you want some sort of military action launched to rescue him? Where are they falling down? DE TORRENTE: They have clear obligations and responsibilities, as you say. They have the responsibility for the safety of aid workers on their territory. And Dagestan is clearly on their territory. And they have responsibilities to ensure his release. What we know is that they're able to communicate -- have been able to communicate with the captors in the past. They've obtained proof of life from him, video, and photos from the captors. We know that they could do a lot more. And really they can and must do more. SAVIDGE: What is it you would like to see them do? DE TORRENTE: We're not dictating to the Russian authorities how they should resolve this case, but they have means. They have a very big military and security presence in this area. It's a complex place, but nothing happens there without their involvement, and without their -- the power that they have in place there. So we think they can do -- there needs to be political will, basically, and resources devoted to this. SAVIDGE: You deal and work in such dangerous places around the world, routinely. Has this happened before? Have you had kidnappings? DE TORRENTE: Yes, this has happened in different places before. The Northern Caucuses is a very dangerous place for aid workers. There have been over 56 international aid workers abducted. But Arjan's case stands out. He's the longest detainee in this region. And frankly, there's really not enough that's being done to release him. And that's really the problem right now. The onus is on the Russians, but it's also on the international community to step up and demand much more from the Russians. They've been saying for months now that they know he's alive, they know he's well, and that they're doing their best. Now it's time for the international community to hold them accountable for this. Really to press them to push them. We know the issue has been raised by U.S. officials by European Union officials. But now it's time to really ask for answers, and ask for results. SAVIDGE: Mr. De Torrente, I have tremendous respect for Doctors Without Borders, having seen you operate firsthand in many parts of the world. Thanks for joining us. We wish well on the release of. Dr. Erkel. Thank you so much. DE TORRENTE: Thanks very much Martin, for having me.