DATE=7/24/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=FINAL WORD ON WACO NUMBER=6-11937 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 INTERNET=YES CONTENT= INTRO: One of the most controversial federal law enforcement actions in recent years, happened at a farm outside Waco, Texas. A heavily armed religious cult, the Branch Dividians, was surrounded by federal agents. The officers were trying to arrest the group's leader David Koresh. A shootout occurred, followed by a 51-day standoff. At the end, the complex caught fire, and about 80 people, many of them women and children, died. Now, an interim federal report has exonerated government agents from causing the fire or the deaths. It has not ended the controversy, at least in the press, and we get some samples now from __________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup. TEXT: The report was commissioned by the Justice Department, after belated allegations of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) misconduct connected to the 1993 incident surfaced in the press. Former Missouri Senator John Danforth spent months gathering testimony and questioning various officials before announcing his findings. His interim report says the F-B-I did not start the fire that roared, unchecked, through the compound, nor was it guilty of an extensive cover up of details about the standoff. His final report is expected three months from now. Some U-S newspapers take the report at face value, and are glad it has given a final answer to many questions about the actions and motivations of the several federal agencies involved at Waco. In that small, central Texas city itself, The Waco Tribune-Herald remains perplexed that so many other questions remain unanswered. TEXT: Special Counsel John Danforth believes he has answered "four dark questions." That leaves dozens that forever may beg for light. Unfortunately, even with a staggering ten million dollar price tag, the Danforth probe into the 1993 events at Mount Carmel [Editors: the name the Branch Dividians gave to their farm complex] was way too limited to put to rest so many concerns and suspicions. TEXT: The Washington Post, which points out Mr. Danforth did not address the issue of law enforcement judgement, which many observers suggest was flawed, calls the interim report: "Case Closed. VOICE: Though unsurprising, his conclusions represent a welcome clarification of the record on this seemingly endless saga. The big picture, according to Mr. Danforth, is that the F-B-I did not start the fire that consumed the Waco compound or shoot at the Branch Davidians; the military was not improperly used; the fire was set, after all, by the Branch Davidians themselves. "The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of David Koresh," Mr. Danforth said. ... But a judgment can be reached about the F-B- I's role ... In the final analysis, [its] record in the Waco raid is not one to be proud of. TEXT: Boston's Christian Science Monitor says: VOICE: The tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco ... will continue to be one of the darkest episodes in the history of U-S law enforcement. It should not, however, be recorded as a terrible example of reckless behavior by federal agents. The [Danforth] report ... directly counters the widespread public perception of police misconduct at Waco. ... [It] comes on the heels of a jury verdict in a wrongful death suit brought by surviving Davidians ... [which] ... said the government was not negligent in its handling of the affair. TEXT: Across town, The Boston Globe takes note of two separate verdicts on the tragedy, which essentially reached the same conclusion. VOICE: Former Senator ... Danforth, a Republican appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno ... concluded in a preliminary report ... that government agents did not start the fatal fire or shoot at those in the compound. ... His report came just a week after five jurors who heard extensive testimony in a civil case in Waco advised a judge that there was no federal negligence in the deaths of nearly 80 Davidians, including 20 children. While that judge's ruling and [Mr.] Danforth's final report are still to come, it is clear that wild charges against government agents were based in evidence that was thin to nonexistent. Although the government has been at least preliminarily exonerated of criminal or civil liability, its actions have not been applauded and do not deserve to be. TEXT: The Savannah [Georgia] Morning News on the other hand, is "unsatisfied with the conclusions" of the report. VOICE: Mr. Danforth said federal agents did not start the fire that consumed the compound nor did they shoot at Davidians ... Forensic evidence can support those conclusions. But it's much harder to swallow [Editors: slang for "believe"] the preliminary report's approval of the way the government used military force against civilians - - many of them women and children. ... Indeed, the entire ...standoff resulted from federal agents choosing a gung-ho [Editors: "extremely aggressive"] assault of the compound to arrest sect leaders David Koresh ... when they had numerous opportunities to detain him peacefully off the property. TEXT: On that note, we conclude this sampling of comment on the newly produced, interim report about the Waco religious cult disaster in 1993. NEB/ANG/PW 24-Jul-2000 15:41 PM EDT (24-Jul-2000 1941 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .