Local hero

Disaster-relief expert Fred Cuny disappears while rendering aid in Russia

"He has clearly obtained guru status in the emergency field," says Rick Hill, projects coordinator for Intertect. "He is the foremost authority on emergency management in the world."

Over the years, Cuny's work has increasingly taken him to areas destroyed by civil unrest. Chechnya was a case in point. It was Cuny's second visit to the decimated region this year. After recuperating from a broken leg and eight fractured ribs sustained in a bus accident in Turkey, Cuny was hired by the the Soros Foundation, which helps to stabilize emerging democracies, to do a needs assessment in the region. He was also to meet with Chechen leaders and explore the possibility of a ceasefire, Hill says.

Chechnya was considered an especially dangerous assignment, more so than even Sarajevo.

Traveling with an interpreter and two Russian Red Cross doctors, Cuny was last seen in Bamut, a Chechen-held town west of Grozny, which had "the hell shelled out of it by the Russians," Hill says.

Cuny is often incommunicado for several days when he's in the field, but this has been an uncharacteristically long silence. Hill and other Intertect office staff say Soros administrators are getting conflicting reports. But their best guess is that Cuny and his colleagues are being detained--by whom and for what reason is unclear.

"We're optimistic," says Mary Jo Cuny, Cuny's sister-in-law and an Intertect staffer. "No good can come from being any other way. It also shows you how much faith we have in Fred and his abilities.

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