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AFTER 53 DAYS, FBI AND FREEMEN TALKING

It took 53 days and seven mediators, but the Freemen and the FBI are finally talking.

Colorado state Sen. Charles Duke met with Freemen leaders for 2 1/2 hours Thursday morning before they were joined by two FBI negotiators in the afternoon.For nearly two hours, the seven men stood in a drizzling rain on a muddy road near the gate to the Freemen's 960-acre farm compound. Two Freemen sentries kept watch in a pickup truck nearby.

"We didn't necessarily push for closure today, that's for future meetings," Duke said. He said it was too early to know if they could facilitate the Freemen's surrender.

They planned to meet again Friday.

The Freemen contend they are not subject to state or federal laws and subscribe only to their own interpretation of common law. They are believed to be heavily armed, and some are wanted on federal and state charges ranging from writing millions of dollars in worthless checks to threatening the murder of a federal judge.

The face-to-face meeting with the FBI was the first since the standoff with federal agents began on March 25 after the FBI arrested two Freemen leaders. The FBI believes 18 Freemen remain inside the compound.

The Freemen negotiators were identified as Edwin Clark, Rodney Skurdal, Russell Landers and Dale Jacobi.

Clark, a member of the farming and ranching family that owned the land before a bank foreclosed on it in 1994, appeared to be doing most of the talking.

Skurdal, of Roundup, Mont., was identified earlier by negotiator James "Bo" Gritz as one of a few hardcore members of the group who would be least likely to want to surrender.

Landers is a North Carolina man and fugitive from Colorado who is accused of filing phony property liens against officials. Jacobi, of Thompson Falls, Mont., is a former police officer in Calgary, Alberta.

Duke is a leader of a patriot movement in his state and a candidate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.