Justice Department spokesman Stewart in Atlanta said there was nothing to suggest the hostages had been harmed and announced that inmates had on Wednesday provided Polaroid photographs and signatures to demonstrate that all 94 hostages "continue to be well treated."
He said the inmates' water supply had been cut to restore water pressure elsewhere in the prison, which had been dwindling since fires set by inmates Monday destroyed underground water mains.
But Stewart said the shutdown might also suggest to inmates "that they think about a serious negotiating position."
Although dialogue between inmates and federal negotiators continued only in sporadic phone conversations, Stewart said federal negotiators had been encouraged by the fact that they were talking day after day to the same inmates, who appeared to be acting as spokesmen.
Looking for Leadership
But with little progress in negotiations since a proposal to release 50 hostages was rejected by inmates Thursday night, Stewart said negotiators were still "looking for a leadership group that can make some sort of promise and deliver on it."
At Oakdale, negotiations have not resumed since Friday afternoon, a government spokesman said.
The government also complained of dissension within the Cuban ranks there. But the Cubans' messages at Oakdale refuted claims by federal officials that the detainees torpedoed a deal to end the weeklong siege by trying to add on new conditions at the last minute Friday.
Another banner hoisted in the prison yard shortly after negotiations collapsed sought access to Roman, legal representatives and "live national press," apparently to ensure that the agreement was all that it was advertised to be.
A spokeswoman for Roman confirmed that the bishop left Miami for the small Louisiana town before dawn Saturday. But by nightfall, Roman's whereabouts remained secret.
The government consistently has refused to disclose any details of the negotiations and has limited press access to the compound with increasing severity.
Restrictions on Reporters
Only one reporter was allowed near the compound each hour. The reporter was forbidden to come any closer than the parking lot, making futile any attempt to speak with or hear the men behind the razor-wire fence.
On Saturday, authorities cut off access to the half of the parking lot facing the area where the Cubans congregate. They also erected an 11-by-30-foot plywood wall in front of the administration building, where negotiations have taken place.
A new line of buses and ambulances blocked the view of nearly the entire prison compound from the accessible half of the parking lot.
Early Saturday, relatives of the 26 hostages gathered for a prayer service. The wife of one hostage offered a song:
"Through it all, through it all, I've learned to trust in Jesus. Through it all, through it all, I've learned to trust in God," she sang.
David Lauter reported from Oakdale, La., and Douglas Jehl from Atlanta. Also contributing to this story were staff writers Tamara Jones in Oakdale, Robert Gillette in Atlanta and Karen Tumulty in Washington.