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Humanitarian Group Suspends Work in Russian Region After Kidnapping - 2002-08-14

The international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says it is suspending its humanitarian work in the North Caucasus region of southern Russia. The group acted after one of its aid workers was kidnapped.

Doctors Without Borders says in a statement that it is suspending operations in the Russian regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

The group made the decision after one of its volunteers, Arjan Erkel, was kidnapped Monday in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala. Doctors Without Borders says it is very concerned about his welfare. It is urging whoever is holding Mr. Erkel to release him unharmed.

The aid organization has already suspended its operations in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya after another aid worker who was not affiliated with Doctors Without Borders was kidnapped in July.

After the July kidnapping, the United Nations suspended its operations in Chechnya indefinitely.

Separatists have been fighting Russian soldiers for independence in Chechnya for years and the violence has often spilled over into neighboring areas such as Dagestan.

Mr. Erkel has served as the director of the Swiss branch of the Doctors Without Borders office in Dagestan since April of this year.

He was on his way home Monday evening with his driver when he was kidnapped by three men. Police in Dagestan say they are investigating the possibility that Mr. Erkel was kidnapped for ransom or for political reasons.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in the Caucasus and foreigners are often targets because they are believed to bring higher prices.