Cult leader rejects idea of mass suicide

DAVID KORESH, the cult leader, has told FBI negotiators that he does not intend to order his band of followers, including 45 Britons, to commit mass suicide - and has complained about claims that he believes he is Jesus Christ.

The FBI yesterday provided an insight into the complex, and erratic, mind of the 33-year-old religious fanatic who is monitoring television and radio reports about the siege of his Texan fortress, which began after a gun battle with federal agents last Sunday.

In long telephone conversations with FBI negotiators, who have been trying to persuade him to surrender for six days, the volatile Mr Koresh swings from lucidity to rambling about religious scriptures. He has complained bitterly about media coverage of his extraordinary beliefs and police movements around his property.

'His state of mind does vary,' said an FBI Special Agent, Bob Ricks. 'He is lucid. We have many long conversations about various topics, including personal matters and the scriptures. He at times becomes irritated if we get into areas that he does not want to discuss.'

Mr Koresh and an estimated 108 followers members have been holed up in 'Ranch Apocalypse', a fortified compound, since Sunday when four agents from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were killed during a gun battle. It began when more than 100 ATF agents, some hidden in trucks, arrived to arrest Mr Koresh for firearms offences. The cult leader has a stockpile of arms and, possibly, explosives.

According to the FBI, the negotiators have felt a 'close bonding' with Mr Koresh, who still says he is waiting for an instruction from God before leaving. Yet this relationship collapses when they start suggesting he should surrender, or asking for the release of specific individuals. 'He has taken offence to being compared with Jesus,' said Mr Ricks, 'I believe it would be more accurate to say that he describes himself as a prophet.'

Mr Koresh, who also calls himself the Anointed One and Lamb of God, has been asked by federal agents if he intends to commit suicide, or to order a mass suicide. This follows speculation that the siege of the Branch Davidians, who believe the world is on the verge of the Apocalypse, might end in a repeat of the Jonestown massacre in 1978 when 913 cult members killed themselves.

But Mr Koresh has denied any such plans. His compound has access to well water, a stockpile of ready-to-eat military rations and other food, and fuel - suggesting that the cult, which has a strong survivalist streak, is equipped to withstand a long siege.

What is developing outside Waco, a Bible-belt country town in central Texas, is an elaborate psychological war in which Mr Koresh is using children as his bargaining chips to secure concessions. The FBI said he had allowed another child, a nine-year- old American girl, to leave - bringing the total of released children to 21, including three Britons. Earlier, some of his followers were allowed out of the compound to throw away two dead dogs and free a goose. Mr Koresh says he still has 17 children and 47 women inside.

Meanwhile, the federal authorities, who have ringed the compound with more than 400 armed men, recovered the body of a man in his thirties, a cult member believed to have been killed in Sunday's shoot-out.