Besieged cult leader releases two more children: Police in Texas prepare for a long haul at 'Ranch Apocalypse' but the families of British converts have little hope of a peaceful solution

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The Independent Online
THE MESSIANIC cult leader David Koresh has allowed two more children to leave his embattled Texas country fortress, where he and his followers, including some 45 Britons, were yesterday still holed up, surrounded by hundreds of armed police and federal agents.

But there is growing evidence that the religious fanatic, a 33- year-old failed rock musician, and his fellow cultists are equipped for a lengthy stand-off with the US authorities, which began after four federal officers were killed in a gun battle on Sunday.

Foreign Office officials were flabbergasted to discover the number of British citizens lured to Texas by the charismatic Mr Koresh, who went on a British recruiting drive in 1988. Although 10 cultists are thought to be dead, it is not known whether any of the estimated 45 Britons have been injured or killed. But when - or if - they emerge, some seem certain to face conspiracy to murder charges.

Federal agents have spent hour after hour negotiating with Mr Koresh via a telephone link to 'Ranch Apocalypse', the cult's complex of fortified buildings on farmland outside the Bible-belt town of Waco. On Tuesday Mr Koresh broke a promise to surrender, saying he would leave when God instructed him to - a position he continued to maintain yesterday. Much of the negotiations are devoted to rambling religious discourses and Scripture readings. Mr Koresh, who claims to be injured, appear to have staged a 'miraculous recovery', the FBI said.

The FBI last night said it was pleased with the way relationships were developing with Mr Koresh, describing it as 'very, very positive'. Special Agent Jeffrey Jamar, head of the FBI operation, said the talks with the cult, being conducted by three teams of specially trained negotiators, were 'pretty constant now'.

The FBI announced that the children released yesterday were American, aged 11 and 12. This suggested that at least some progress was being made in efforts to persuade the Branch Davidian cult, an extremist offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, to give themselves up. However, the authorities seem dug in for a long ordeal, amid local speculation that the group may be contemplating mass suicide.

One of the holed-up Britons is a child. Three other British children, aged 3, 6, and 11, were said to be in good condition in the care of Texas child-care authorities, after Mr Koresh allowed them to leave the compound several days ago. So far 20 children have been allowed out, but - according to Mr Koresh - there are still 47 women and 18 children among his 108 followers inside.

When Mr Koresh seized control of the sect, after a shoot-out with a rival in 1987, he began a big construction programme. The cultists, who believe the World's end is nigh, have a well, an outdoor shower and substantial supplies of ready-to-eat military rations. They are also believed to have tunnels, a gym and chapel, and a water-tower. Their lifestyle is simple and self-sufficient: the women and children work in the kitchen and are segregated from the men, who do construction work. They spend much time praying, especially on Saturdays, their Sabbath.

Cult members also take part in firearms training exercises and conduct armed patrols of the premises - overlooked by a four- storey watchtower which allows them to see for miles across the flat Texan farming landscape around Waco. They are taught to believe that they must defend their home at any price, using their huge arsenal. On Sunday, when more than 100 heavily armed agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) arrived to arrest Mr Koresh for possessing illegal firearms, they did just that - killing four officers and injuring 15 in a 45-minute fire-fight.

However, Mr Koresh, a self- proclaimed Messiah who calls himself the 'Anointed One', leads a less arduous lifestyle than those under his power. While his male groupies have been sworn to celibacy, he has the pick of the women - a privilege which has produced a sizeable number of offspring.

He has access to a television set and, according to the authorities, has been watching TV coverage of the siege as he strides around his headquarters, reciting religious texts.

For this reason, the federal agencies have pushed back television camera crews to a point two miles away from the complex, for fear that they would broadcast police movements around the building. The FBI was yesterday considering cutting off the electricity - although it refused to elaborate on plans.

Meanwhile, a dispute has developed over whether the Branch Davidians received a tip-off before Sunday's raid. The ATF is certain the cultists were contacted, and immediately rushed to their well-stocked gun stores. Two unmarked cars - later established as media vehicles - were seen near the ranch just before scores of ATF agents stormed in. The ATF, angrily denying allegations that it botched the raid, said an independent inquiry into the tip-off had begun.

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