Russian Federation

Some 200 people call on government to do more to find and free kidnapped aid worker

Russia - About 200 people rallied in southern Russia on Monday to demand that the government do more to find and release a Dutch aid worker kidnapped nine months ago in the volatile Dagestan region. The protesters carried portraits of Arjan Erkel and gathered signatures on a petition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They accuse the government of inaction in the August kidnapping of Erkel, who heads the North Caucasus mission of Medecins Sans Frontieres, known in English as Doctors without Borders.

"We are not going to leave Dagestan. We will stay until he is found," said MSF spokesman Mark Walsh. The aid agency said in a statement Monday that Russian investigators have assured them that Erkel is alive.

"However, where he is being kept, who abducted him and for what reason remains a mystery which is unbearable for Arjan's family and MSF alike," the group said in a statement. MSF's repeated requests to meet with Putin's administration have been denied, the group said.

"President Putin should be doing everything in his power to help secure Arjan's release," said Morten Rostrup, international president of MSF. Imamudin Timirbulatov, head of the police anti-organized crime unit in Dagestan, said Monday that "undoubtedly" Erkel is alive, but investigators are not sure if he is being held in Chechnya or Dagestan. Erkel is the second MSF employee to be taken hostage in southern Russia.

In January 2001, U.S. citizen Kenneth Gluck was held by unidentified gunmen in Chechnya for 25 days. Erkel's kidnapping also followed the July abduction in Chechnya of Russian aid worker Nina Davidovich. She was released in January.