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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Aid worker abducted in Dagestan
Map showing Dagestan
A Dutch employee of the international medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been abducted in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan.

Arjan Erkel
Arjan Erkel was bundled into a car
Arjan Erkel was seized by three gunmen in the suburbs of the regional capital, Makhachkala, late on Monday.

Dagestan borders the rebellious region of Chechnya, where MSF and the UN suspended their operations last month, after the kidnapping of a worker.

MSF is now reviewing whether to continue work in Dagestan.

Dagestan's first deputy prosecutor, Magomed Abdulkhalikov, said Mr Erkel's driver had been detained in connection with the kidnapping and his translator was being questioned as a witness.


MSF is extremely concerned about this incident and demands the immediate safe release of Arjan

MSF statement
The Interfax news agency said that the driver was not hurt and was not tied up during the abduction, raising investigators' suspicions.

Interior Ministry officials said that no ransom had been demanded and MSF said it had not been contacted by Mr Erkel's abductors.

Mr Erkel, the head of the Russian mission of the Swiss branch of the aid group, has been based in Dagestan since the spring, assisting refugees from the Chechnya conflict.

Racket

An MSF spokesman in Geneva, Michel Clerc, said two employees of the Dagestan mission had been called back to Moscow since the kidnapping and that more were likely to follow.

Freed American aid worker Kenny Gluck of MSF
Kenny Gluck: MSF worker freed after Chechen kidnap ordeal
He said a "skeleton team" would remain in the region.

Russia's minister for Chechnya, Vladimir Yelagin, said at a meeting with international aid organisations on Tuesday that officials were doing "everything possible" to locate the kidnap victims.

Kidnapping for ransom is a widespread racket in the northern Caucasus.

Foreigners are often targets because of the belief that they have greater resources to pay higher ransoms.

Legacy of war

Chechnya was swept by a wave of abductions after the war of 1994-96, in which separatists won de-facto independence.

The kidnapping epidemic was cited by Russian officials as one of the reasons for sending troops back into the region in the autumn of 1999.

The Russian military presence in Chechnya has helped reduce the number of abductions, but not ended them.

Earlier this year, the Russian Interior Ministry said that some 700 people were being held for ransom in and around Chechnya.

In January 2001, an American worker with MSF, Kenny Gluck, was abducted in the region by unidentified gunmen and held for 25 days.

See also:

29 Jul 02 | Europe
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10 Dec 01 | Europe
13 Aug 00 | Europe
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