Koresh dashes hopes of Easter end to siege: Rupert Cornwell in Waco finds deadlock between a self-styled Jesus and the law as immovable as ever

GOOD Friday dawned sunny and golden across the green plains of central Texas yesterday. But even Easter's symbolic cycle of death, resurrection and eternal life showed no sign of tempting one self-styled Jesus to lay down his arms and surrender to the justice of a waiting and ever more weary world.

Forty-one days have now passed in the stand-off at the Mount Carmel compound 10 miles east of here, and the only new information to emerge yesterday was that, according to a spokesman for the cult leader, David Koresh, six of his followers died in the 28 February shoot-out which began the siege.

Wishful thinking has all but evaporated that Christianity's greatest festival might end the resistance of Mr Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers. Rather, the deadlock seems as great as ever.

'God Sees Your Lies,' read the black-painted words scrawled on a banner unfurled from a window at the compound late on Thursday, hours after phone negotiations between the authorities and more than 90 holed-up cult members had broken down for the umpteenth time, as Mr Koresh's spokesmen insisted once more that their chosen one was awaiting 'the word of God'.

Accompanying it was a reference to the vision of Habakkuk, culled from Chapter 3, Verse 14 of the prophet's writings: 'Thou did strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.' Like most utterances associated with the man the local press has long since dubbed 'The Sinful Messiah,' this one did not lend itself to simple interpretation. But it hardly suggested a peaceful resolution of hostilities.

Soon afterwards darkness fell, and the bizarre nightly ritual of one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of US law enforcement resumed. As tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles stood by in the moonlight, search-lights swept the ochre-pink walls of Mount Carmel while loudspeakers blasted out noise and din. But all, it seems, to little avail.

Just how long the stand-off will continue no one knows. Mr Koresh was wounded in February's failed assault, in which four federal agents and now apparently one woman and five male members of the cult were killed. There was no word whether any of the 25 or 26 Britons believed to be in the compound were among the dead. But on Thursday Mr Koresh's lieutenant and chief 'negotiator', Steve Schneider, abruptly denied the Branch Davidians had agreed through their lawyers to give themselves up once they had completed their seven-day observance of Passover on Tuesday.

The group inside, which also includes 17 children, may have supplies of food and water to last a year and an array of weaponry to match. Facing them outside is an assortment of 400 Texas Rangers, FBI special officers and Swat teams, equipped with the finest the Pentagon has to offer - not to mention a small army of journalists from the US and around the world.

In the past five weeks a temporary 'Satellite City,' a press township of vans, tents and satellite dishes, has sprung up at a roadblock two miles south of Mount Carmel. Day after day the 200-odd inhabitants of Satellite City read the runes, scour the scriptures and probe new angles of the story, not least for a clue to when their own penance in the Texan wilderness might end.

Take just one typical sample of their heroic efforts: the theory that Mr Koresh is following the example of a doomsday cult leader of the early 1900s, one Cyrus Reed, who believed that he had a sacred duty to save the world when Armageddon arrived and died after a fight with the law. Koresh, let it further be noted, is Hebrew for Cyrus, the great Persian king whom Isaiah says was anointed by God to crush the Babylonians and save the Israelites. Such is late 20th- century reporting from Waco.

The other big topic, inevitably, is just how much Mr Koresh stands to earn from his irresistible combination of cranky religion, weird sex and heavy artillery. According to the New York Times, Mr Koresh's lawyers are touting exclusive rights to his story for 'a floor of dollars 2.5m ( pounds 1.6m)'.

(Photograph omitted)

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