Two anti-government Freemen met with negotiators for a second day Saturday at the entrance to their isolated compound. After two hours, both sides exchanged handshakes and parted.
The FBI declined to comment on the talks, but an agency source confirmed that one of the Freemen was Edwin Clark, widely recognized as the leader of the group that has been holed up at the ranch for 21/2 months. Clark has been meeting with negotiators for the past few days.The talks were held around a card table at the entrance to the ranch, the site of similar negotiations Friday. Other meetings with non-FBI, third-party negotiators have occurred in buildings on the ranch.
Hopes were raised for a break in the standoff after four people left the compound on Thursday following negotiations with the FBI.
The FBI said in a statement Saturday that it had honored the terms of the agreement reached with Gloria Ward, who left the complex along with her common-law husband, Elwin Ward, and her two daughters. The Wards were the first people to leave the compound since April.
Gloria Ward was wanted in Utah on a charge of felony custodial interference, but authorities there agreed to drop the charge if she left the ranch.
Gloria Ward said Friday that her understanding of the deal brokered with the FBI was that her sister would be given temporary custody of the children. Instead, a judge in Salt Lake City on Friday gave temporary custody of both girls to Robert Gunn, father of one of the girls, and allowed Gloria Ward only supervised visits.
"The FBI is grateful that Gloria Ward and her family left the Freemen ranch peacefully," the FBI said in a statement." In negotiating that outcome, the FBI did everything exactly as represented to Ms. Ward."
The agency said it made no promises regarding custody.
"The final custody of the children, whose safety and well-being is paramount, has always been an issue to be determined by the state court," the statement said. "The FBI did assure Gloria Ward that she would not be arrested by federal authorities and that all Utah state charges would be dropped. That is what happened."
Gloria Ward said the child custody ruling cast doubt over the likelihood of a peaceful resolution to the standoff.
The FBI has isolated the rural area around the Freemen's farm complex since March 25, when federal agents arrested two of the group's leaders who had left the ranch house. Seventeen Freemen remain at the compound.
Federal charges against some of the Freemen include allegations they circulated millions of dollars in worthless checks, and threatened the life of a federal judge.