Russian Federation

President Bush urged to press President Putin for aid worker's freedom

The independent humanitarian medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today called upon U.S. President George Bush to press Russian President Vladimir Putin at Camp David to ensure kidnapped aid worker Arjan Erkel's immediate and safe release. Arjan Erkel is the Dutch volunteer for MSF who was abducted on August 12, 2002 in the Russian republic of Dagestan.

Since the end of July, there has been no information on his condition and his whereabouts remain unknown. Russian officials have assured MSF for more than 13 months that they were working on Arjan's case, and yet there has been no substantial evidence of actions taken by Russian authorities to find and free Arjan. In August 2003, Russia voted in favor of the unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 1502 on the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers.

According to Resolution 1502, all member states must take appropriate steps to ensure aid workers' safety and security. "During his speech this week to the United Nations General Assembly, President Putin told the world that countries must be duty-bound to observe the norms of international law," said Dr. Morten Rostrup, MSF International Council President.

"President Putin must live up to his obligations and his own statements to secure Arjan's immediate and safe release. It is up to all heads of state, including President Bush, to hold President Putin accountable for resolving this crime against an aid worker."

To date, more than 400,000 people around the world have signed a petition calling on President Putin to do everything in his power to secure Arjan's release. Members of the US Senate and US Congress have also written to both leaders about Arjan, and have urged President Bush to raise the matter directly with President Putin.

In the past week, officials in the Bush Administration have assured MSF that Arjan's case was of great concern and that it was on the summit's agenda. It will be critical for President Bush to discuss it directly with President Putin.

"An aid worker held captive is an international issue," Dr. Rostrup continued. "Because of threats and violence in the Northern Caucusus, aid agencies have almost no access to people in the region, even though the needs are enormous. This is why President Bush must insist that President Putin urgently mobilize all necessary resources to secure Arjan's release."