Authorities cut off Freemen's power FBI hopes to force talks on surrender

June 04, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JORDAN, Mont. -- Federal agents cut off electricity yesterday to the 960-acre ranch where 18 people have been holed up for 71 days, hoping to force leaders of the Freemen, a radical anti-government group, to resume negotiations for a peaceful surrender.

The FBI also has brought three armored vehicles to the area, and the clatter of a low-flying helicopter brought in by the FBI has been echoing off the rolling hills around the ranch.

FBI agents have established additional checkpoints along the gravel road leading to the ranch. Last week reporters and camera operators were moved back from the ranch, to a hilltop 2 1/2 miles away.

In a one-page press release issued yesterday, the FBI said that the cutting off of power and the arrival of the armored vehicles and helicopter were not necessarily an indication they would assault the ranch, but that "at the same time it intends to keep open all lawful options."

It is not known what the power shutoff will mean to the Freemen. They are believed to have diesel generators that will provide electricity, but no one knows how much fuel they have.

Frustrated diplomat

Forty-two intermediaries have talked to the Freemen in an attempt to end the standoff. The most recent, state Sen. Charles Duke of Colorado, left in frustration on May 21 after several days of meetings.

"Several times we had an agreement and then we would come back the next day and the FBI met the terms of their agreement; then the Freemen would escalate their side and present new demands," he said. "They weren't really interested in compromising."

State Rep. Karl Ohs, who has met the Freemen 18 times, told the Billings Gazette that he was not optimistic that negotiations would work. "Right now we're in a pretty tough spot," he said. "They seem much more entrenched."

The FBI estimates that there are 18 people at the ranch, three of them children. Some of the adults are wanted on charges including bank fraud and threatening government officials. Some are also charged with stealing video cameras from two network news crews who approached the ranch.

Claims of sovereignty

The Freemen, who say they are part of a loosely knit national movement that refuses to recognize the authority of the federal government, declared the ranch to be their own sovereign nation. They are accused of issuing millions of dollars in bogus checks.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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