Veteran children's doctor focus of Russian hostage mediation hopes

Agence France Presse -- English
September 2, 2004 Thursday 11:52 AM GMT

MOSCOW Sept 2 -- Children's doctor Leonid Roshal who is attempting
to mediate a way out of the hostage crisis at a school in southern
Russia is a veteran of tense situations who enjoys the trust of both
Chechen rebels and Russian authorities.

Roshal, who arrived in the North Ossetian town of Beslan on Wednesday
and has already held several sessions of telephone talks with the
hostage-takers, succeeded in negotiating the release of eight children
during the siege of a Moscow theatre in October 2002 after a Chechen
commando took some 800 theatre-goers and performers hostage.

The white-haired pediatrician, aged 71 and known to Russian media
as the "peace doctor", won the respect of Chechen rebels during the
first separatist war of 1994-96 when he provided medical care to
wounded Chechen children.

Russian media speculated the hostage-takers in Beslan had called
specifically for Roshal to mediate.

During the Dubrovka theatre crisis, in which he persuaded the
hostage-takers to allow water and medication into the building,
he operated on one of the rebels who had received a wound to the hand.

After working with the victims of the massive Armenian earthquake
of 1988, Roshal set up a team of doctors to work in war and natural
disaster zones.

He and his colleagues have provided care for children in war zones
in the former Yugoslavia (1991), Georgia (1991-92), Nagorno Karabakh
(1992) and Chechnya (1995). Last year, during the US-led invasion of
Iraq, he proposed a "green corridor" to evacuate children from the
cities of Baghdad and Basra.

Roshal, who was decorated by President Vladimir Putin for his mediation
efforts during the Dubrovka crisis during which at least 129 hostages
died, is also a member of the presidential commission on human rights.

Some 132 children have been identified among the hundreds of hostages
seized by the 17-strong commando at the Beslan school.