The number-two executive at Nortel Networks is taking at least the next six months off for health reasons.

Clarence Chandran, the company's chief operating officer, has decided to follow his doctor's advice and take between six and 12 months of medical leave, Nortel president and CEO John Roth said Tuesday.

Chandran, who became COO in June 2000, has had surgery twice in recent months due to complications stemming from a June 1997 stabbing in Singapore. Chandran was repeatedly stabbed in the stomach and neck by burglars who broke into a home where he was staying.

"While we will miss Clarence greatly during the medical leave, we fully support this decision," said Roth, who will assume Chandran's day-to-day responsibilities.

Chandran is up for election to Nortel's board of directors at the company's annual general meeting in Calgary next month.

"At this time, we expect that Clarence would be able to serve as a director of the corporation if elected at the meeting, and that Clarence will continue to stand as a nominee for election to the board of directors," Roth said.