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Negotiations With Cultist Stalled Again : Siege: Officials step up psychological warfare on Koresh by beaming amplified Tibetan chanting at the compound.

March 23, 1993|DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WACO, Tex. — Despite the departure of nine Branch Davidian members from their armed compound over the weekend, federal officials said Monday that the lengthy talks with cult leader David Koresh have yet to produce a substantial move toward ending the 23-day siege.

"I would have to characterize yesterday as a disappointment," said FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks, referring to the surrender of seven Koresh followers on Sunday, the largest in weeks. "We thought if we did what they said, we'd see more people come out, but we saw no additional movement after 2 p.m."

Ricks' comments at a morning news conference amounted to another dip in what has been an emotional roller coaster for law enforcement officials. They expressed some optimism Sunday that a quick and peaceful resolution of the standoff might be negotiated. After talking directly with Koresh over the weekend, Ricks said authorities came to expect the departure of a large number of cult members from the 77-acre complex by Monday.

But after the surrender of two Branch Davidians on Friday and the seven on Sunday, Ricks said no further departures occurred and Koresh broke off discussions about 1 a.m. Monday.

Several hundred federal and local officers equipped with armored vehicles have surrounded the compound since an abortive raid on Feb. 28 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Four agents were killed and 16 wounded trying to execute a search warrant for illegal weapons.

About 96 people, including 17 children, now remain inside the compound, which is about 10 miles east of Waco.

Federal agents resumed their practice of directing loud music and broadcasts at the fortified complex. Sunday night, officers added to their repertoire chants of Tibetan monks and a 1-hour monologue from Koresh that was aired by a Dallas radio station two days after the stalemate began on Feb. 28.

The amplified recordings are a reminder of the psychological warfare tactics used by U.S. soldiers during the capture of Gen. Manuel A. Noriega in Panama. In an attempt to force Noriega from the Vatican embassy, troops played blaring rock music outside.

Although chants have religious significance and can produce a calming effect for meditation, Ricks declined to explain their use in the Waco standoff, except to say that Koresh was irritated by the chanting.

"The message is that we are here and won't go away and that we are putting pressure on them to get this thing resolved," said Ricks, who said there was a joking recommendation by agents that they continuously play "Achy Breaky Heart" by country-western singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

The vast majority of people who have recently left the compound are rank-and-file members or elderly followers--not the type of people who would be of particular value to Koresh should he pursue a course to violence or martyrdom, Ricks said.

"More significant would be his children or younger people who would be a threat to us," Ricks said.

Eight of the nine people who left the complex over the weekend made their initial court appearances Monday at the federal courthouse in Waco. All were ordered to be held in McLennan County Jail as potential material witnesses.

"We are not a cult," Gladys Ottman, 67, told reporters as she was escorted from the courthouse by federal marshals. "We just want to read the Bible."

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