WACO, Texas -- A senior FBI official said yesterday tha negotiators had a four-hour telephone discussion with David Koresh on Friday night that was largely devoted to details of a possible surrender of the 103 members of a religious sect who are holed up in their compound near here.
But the official noted that only two people had actually been allowed to leave in the past week. If that rate of progress continued, he told reporters, it would take more than a year for everyone to leave.
The official, Dick Swensen, a special agent, confirmed that Mr. Koresh had allowed two men to leave the compound Friday night. They were identified as Brad Branch, 34, and Kevin Whitecliff, 31, both U.S. citizens.
Agent Swensen said in response to reporters' questions that neither of them was considered a significant figure in the cult's leadership. They are being held at the McLennan County jail in Waco, although they are not known to have been charged with any crimes.
Two days after the Feb. 28 shootout at the compound, Mr. Koresh promised to come out with all of his followers after an hour-long monologue of his was broadcast on a Dallas radio station.
But later he reneged, saying he was instead waiting for a message from God to leave, and federal officials in Waco have been reduced to the equivalent of reading tea leaves in trying to determine when there might be a peaceful resolution to the standoff.
For instance, at a news briefing yesterday, Agent Swensen observed that yesterday was the first day of spring, which seems to have some importance in the cult's teachings, as did the recent appearance of a comet in the night sky.
Agent Swensen also noted that a new moon would occur on Tuesday.
Agent Swensen said that Mr. Koresh had specifically discussed the possibility of a mass surrender during the Friday telephone ,, conversation, which also included biblical lectures from the cult leader.
"This appears to be one of the first times that he's alluding to the final end to this thing and he's talking in terms of some large numbers, not this trickle thing of two a week."
Despite reports that cult members had stockpiled several months' worth of food, there was one possible indication Friday that their supplies may in fact be limited.
They could be seen, through high-powered television cameras, collecting rain water in pots and pans. Agent Swensen said he did not know whether they were facing a water shortage.
Cult members have access to a well that has nonpotable water, but it is unclear whether they still have the ability to boil it.