The body of a man reported to be Frederick C. Cuny, the American disaster relief expert who disappeared last month while on an emergency mission to Chechnya, has been found shot in the head in a village south of Grozny, the capital, officials said on Monday.
There has been no official confirmation that the body is that of Cuny and there may not be for several days, said American embassy officials in Moscow.
There have also been questions about whether the body was reported to be that of Cuny simply because it was of a man well over 6 feet tall, as he was. But, while hesitant to speak with certainty, officials with knowledge of the case said it seemed so far that the victim fit Cuny’s description.
The body, discovered by boys in a settlement near the town of Shali, had two bullet holes in the head.
There are no forensic facilities in that region, torn by war for months now, so a more conclusive examination will have to occur in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya.
“A body has been discovered in Chechnya which some people believe is that of Fred Cuny,” a spokesman for the American embassy said here on Monday evening. “Until a positive identification has been made the American embassy will have no comment on the case. An embassy consular officer is in Ingushetia and is working closely with the Cuny family. The embassy will continue to assist them as necessary.”
The search for Cuny, one of America’s more renowned disaster relief specialists, has been intense. While in Moscow last week to observe the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, President Clinton met with members of Cuny’s family and assured them that the United States had made every effort to help Russian military leaders find Cuny, and three Russian companions. Those three, an interpreter and two doctors, have not been found.
It is still unclear under what circumstances the 50-year-old Cuny disappeared. There have been rumors that he was held by Chechen resistance fighters - although there have been no similar instances of such kidnappings. He was in Russian-held territory when he has last heard from on April 9, and there have been rumors that Russian officers had him under arrest.
Cuny was at work on a project for the New York-based Soros Foundation near Bamut, which had been the scene of a major battle. He has worked on emergency relief projects for decades, throughout the world, in such places as Biafra, Bosnia, Ethiopia, and Somalia.