Federal agents try TV to reach Texas cult leader

March 07, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WACO, Texas -- Facing a bank of 31 TV cameras at a new conference yesterday, federal agents used the opportunity to plead with David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians sect, to release his 100 or so followers, including the dead and wounded.

"If he's listening, we want to give him assurances that he and everyone involved will be treated fairly and humanely," said Bob A. Ricks of the FBI. "We appeal to Mr. Koresh to let those people go who want to go."

Mr. Ricks said that Mr. Koresh had complete control over the sect but that the FBI did not view the people inside the compound as hostages, in part because so many of the members took part in the shootout last Sunday. Four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and at least three cult members were killed in the 45-minute gun battle.

So far, two elderly women and 21 children, none of them believed to be Mr. Koresh's, have left the compound. The sect has stopped discussing any more releases, the officials said.

Mr. Ricks said negotiations were dragging on and added that while there was no breakthrough on any issue, Mr. Koresh had begun questioning federal negotiators about how his personal safety would be protected if he surrendered.

Mr. Koresh and another cult member, Steven Schneider, have also begun discussing the removal of an unidentified cult member who was killed in the gun battle.

Officials also seemed to be backing away from earlier statements that last Sunday the cult members fired a .50-caliber machine gun that at least one member of the cult, Paul G. Fatta, has acknowledged is inside the compound.

"We're not able to say that anyone was shooting at us with a .50-caliber weapon," said Daniel Hartnett, associate director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in charge of law enforcement. "But high-caliber weapons were fired."

Meanwhile, the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Waco held its Saturday service in the shadow of the stalemate. Although the sect traces its roots to the denomination, Pastor Larry Guinn stressed that Mr. Koresh was not connected to the church.

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