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PEACE TALKS BEGIN AS FEARS GRIP RESERVATION SENECAS ASKED TO FOLLOW CURFEW

Preliminary peace talks began Monday between the feuding factions of the Seneca Nation of Indians, which is still reeling from the shooting deaths Saturday of three persons on the Cattaraugus Reservation.

The announcement was made by the two persons claiming the presidency of the nation.

Both Dennis J. Bowen Jr. of the Coalition '94 Party and Karen Bucktooth of the Seneca Party said the talks will be held between tribal councilors and, initially, would not include either president.

The political power struggle between supporters of Bowen and Ms. Bucktooth played a role in the exchange of gunfire early Saturday in the William Seneca Building.

An atmosphere of fear still envelops both Seneca reservations. Many residents believe more violence is inevitable if the political battle is not settled.

Bowen said he is asking residents to abide by a "self-imposed" 10 p.m. curfew for the next two weeks and then on weekends until peace is restored.

Another key to the end to the bitter power struggle is the federal government. Federal officials will decide by April 6 which of the two, Bowen or Ms. Bucktooth, they will recognize as president.

About that time, the federal government will be sending out checks for $1.4 million in federal aid that are due to the nation for housing, adult education and other social programs.

Federal officials have made it clear that deciding who is president is an internal decision of the nation.

Who gets the money is a federal decision. It will be made on the basis of arguments both sides made last Wednesday to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The peace talks are part of a plan that was being finalized by two mediators from the Justice Department just the day before the shoot-out.

Early Saturday, five supporters of Ms. Bucktooth who had been drinking during a birthday party stormed into the Seneca Building, which has been held by Bowen supporters since early November. In an exchange of gunfire, three of the five men were killed.

The Erie County Sheriff's Department is conducting the investigation. No arrests have been made.

The mediators -- Fletcher Graves and Miguel J. Hernandez -- appealed to both sides to open lines of communication.

While this is happening, Bowen said, "the curfew will be invaluable to implementing a public safety plan that Acting Police Chief Lonnie Johnson has coordinated for both reservations.

"We know we still have some of our young men, who possess weapons, consuming alcohol," Bowen added.

"If we all stay home, it would be logical for our law officers to assume that the only ones driving on the roads will be those with the weapons and who have possibly been drinking, and they can take the proper action."

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