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Doctors Without Borders Resumes Work in Russia - 2002-09-10

The international aid agency Doctors Without Borders says it is resuming some activities in Russia. The organization halted its activities after an agency volunteer was kidnapped last month in southwestern Russia.

Doctors Without Borders has demanded the release of the volunteer, Arjan Erkel, head of its office in the Russian republic of Dagestan.

But organization officials said they will resume some activities in Russia, namely in the Ingushetia region.

"It was a difficult decision to come to but we have had monitoring teams on the ground who have been monitoring this humanitarian situation and we feel that the populations in Ingushetia should not have to suffer for the recent events in the North Caucasus," said Steve Cornish, acting director of the group's office in Dagestan, where Mr. Erkel used to work.

Mr. Cornish emphasized that operations in other areas, such as Chechnya and Dagestan, remain suspended, with the exception of life-saving assistance. He said operations in Dagestan would be on hold until Mr. Erkel is released.

Mr. Erkel was kidnapped on August 12 in Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala. Dagestan borders Chechnya, where Russian soldiers have been battling separatists for years. The violence often spills over into neighboring regions.

Mr. Cornish said Doctors Without Borders has no information about Mr. Erkel's whereabouts. "Unfortunately, we have had no signs from anyone about the whereabouts or conditions of Arjan," he said. "And we would like to reiterate our demand that he be released safely and in the soonest time possible."

The decision by Doctors Without Borders follows an announcement Monday by the United Nations that it will resume operations in Chechnya.

U.N. activities were suspended in Chechnya six weeks ago, after a Russian aid worker, Nina Davidovich, was kidnapped while traveling through Chechnya. She has not been released.

U.N. officials say they are concerned about security in Chechnya, but decided to resume aid work because there is such a large need.

The ongoing military campaign in Chechnya has strained the resources of the region. Many people there rely on aid agencies for food, basic medical attention, and housing.

Many people who receive aid are Chechen refugees who fled to Dagestan or Ingushetia after Russian troops invaded Chechnya in 1999.

That invasion marked the second time Moscow sent forces into Chechnya since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russian troops invaded Chechnya in 1994 only to pull out in 1996.