Cult holds on to six-year-old British girl

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A SIX-YEAR-OLD British girl yesterday began her second week inside a besieged fortified compound in Texas with the self-proclaimed prophet David Koresh and his fellow cult members, even though FBI negotiators say she has asked to leave.

Melissa Morrison and her mother, Rosemary, from Manchester, have been holed up with dozens of Britons in the Branch Davidian cult's headquarters near Waco since a gun battle eight days ago in which four federal agents were killed.

The FBI said it spoke by telephone to Melissa - the only British child inside so called Ranch Apocalypse - who said she wanted to come out. Mr Koresh, the cult's 33-year-old leader, also told agents that she wished to leave, and her release seemed imminent. But negotiations ended abruptly when he insisted the little girl had changed her mind.

The authorities say the cult has a large cache of weapons, possibly including explosives, along with supplies of ready-to-eat military rations and well water. There are also believed to be a number of bodies - victims of the shootout - although how many is unclear.

The collapse of efforts to release Melissa added to the FBI's deepening gloom about the siege. The agency said yesterday talks with Mr Koresh and Steven Schneider, his right-hand man, had reached a frustrating and disappointing stalemate, in which Mr Koresh was laying down conditions and then rejecting them after they were agreed.

The cult leader insists that his organisation is guilty of nothing more than defending its headquarters after more than 100 heavily armed federal agents descended on it, intent on arresting him for firearms offences. A 'specific settlement' was offered, the FBI said, but Mr Koresh had refused to discuss it further.

The FBI has negotiated with Mr Koresh for many hours since the bungled raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Last week they had built up a 'very positive' relationship, which led to the release of 21 children, but this has evidently deteriorated.

The cult has been playing loud rock music, composed by Mr Koresh - an aspiring guitarist who once wrote a song called 'Mad Man in Waco' - in an apparent effort to wear down the small army of police and federal agents surrounding them.

One of the main sticking points is what charges Mr Koresh and his fellow cultists, who include 47 women and 17 children, are likely to face. When two women, both in their seventies, came out last week they were immediately charged with conspiracy to murder - a move that deterred others from leaving. An infuriated US Department of Justice later ordered the charges to be dropped.

The FBI says that the cultists will be tried in a federal court. Murder is punishable by execution in both the state and federal systems, but it may not be easy to prove who actually shot the four federal agents. The more likely lesser charge of conspiracy to murder is not a capital offence, although it can lead to life imprisonment.