May 15, 1996 in City

Senator With Patriot Ties To Negotiate With Freemen Sen. Charles Duke Plans Talks As Standoff Passes Milestone

Hunter T. George Associated Press
 

Negotiations resumed Tuesday as the standoff between FBI and anti-government freemen reached a dubious milestone, surpassing in length the protracted 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas.

State Rep. Karl Ohs spent about 40 minutes inside the rural ranch where the freemen have held law enforcement at bay since March 25. He left without commenting.

His visit came on Day 51. The Branch Davidian siege ended about noon on its Day 51, April 19, 1993, in a federal assault and then a fire that killed nearly 80 cult members, including 18 children.

No shots have been fired during the Montana standoff. The only death has been an FBI agent killed in a traffic accident.

Ohs is to be followed today by Colorado state Sen. Charles Duke, who announced that the FBI has asked him to serve as a third-party mediator. An FBI spokeswoman did not immediately return a telephone call.

But Duke’s ties to a Colorado patriot movement left some local ranchers skeptical.

Cheryle Bliss, whose family purchased farmland now held by the freemen, said Duke will be surprised when he is confronted with the confusing legal principles cited by the freemen.

“He’s going to get his eyes opened,” Bliss said. “It’s not going to be any different tomorrow than it is in two months.”

Duke, a leader of the local patriot movement and a U.S. Senate candidate, said he agrees with the anti-government group’s “basic beliefs” but not necessarily its approach.

“My role is to mediate between both sides toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” Duke said Tuesday during a news conference in Denver. “It is not my place to establish guilt or innocence.”

He said he was told to pack for an indeterminate stay, but that he was optimistic a settlement could soon be reached.

“The very fact that they would even allow a state representative to walk in their midst says something about how hard it is to find somebody they can trust,” Duke said. “I’ve got some solutions I think are promising.” He would not elaborate.

FBI agents surrounded the rural freemen ranch after they arrested two leaders of the group, whose members contend they are not subject to state or federal law, but only to common law administered by their own court.

The FBI believes 18 freemen are still in the compound, some of them wanted on state and federal charges ranging from threatening to kidnap and kill a federal judge to writing millions of dollars in worthless checks.

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