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FREEMEN USING CHILDREN AS SHIELDS, MEDIATOR SAYS

The anti-government Freemen are unwilling to negotiate an end to their standoff with the FBI and have resorted to using children as shields, a frustrated mediator said.

Talks with Charles Duke broke up in anger Tuesday and the Freemen sent out armed patrols around their farmhouse for the first time in the eight-week standoff.Duke, a Colorado state senator and leader in the so-called patriot movement, blamed Freemen stubbornness for the breakdown and even praised the FBI's patience.

"The time for negotiations is over. They need to feel some pain," Duke said.

He would not elaborate, other than to suggest cutting off cable TV to the ranch, 30 miles northwest of here on the eastern Montana plains.

In an interview Wednesday on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America," he also suggested cutting off the communications radio that was provided to the Freemen. "Right now, they've got a pretty cushy life in there," he said.

Duke said FBI agents had shown an "outstanding willingness to negotiate" while the Freemen, by repeatedly revising their demands after an agreement seemed to have been reached on some issue, "showed they can't be trusted."

Duke said three children, ages 8, 10 and 14, are being used to keep FBI agents at bay. The children are at the ranch with their mothers.

"One can only conclude the adults inside care only for their safety and care not one whit for the safety of their children because they're willing to sacrifice them and use them as a shield," Duke said Tuesday.

Duke, who had arranged the first face-to-face negotiations between the Freemen and FBI, talked alone with an unidentified Freeman for about 15 minutes Tuesday morning.

Reporters a half-mile away could see Duke waving his arms angrily as groups of Freemen and FBI agents looked on separately from a distance.

"It just became sheer lunacy at the end," Duke said of the talks.

The Freemen returned to their compound, and a short time later, at least a half-dozen members of the group, carrying rifles and wearing sidearms, spread out in the fields and hills.

Duke said only a half-dozen people inside the 960-acre compound believe in the Freemen cause, and "the rest are nothing but criminals trying to escape prosecution."

"They're not interested in a negotiated solution," Duke said. "They're interested in making the U.S. government look foolish."

The FBI believes 18 people are on the compound, including the three children. Some of the adults are wanted on state and federal charges that range from writing millions of dollars in bad checks to threatening to kidnap and kill a federal judge.