A judge vowed to press on with the trial of the Montana Freemen, despite a nurse's report that four of the defendants were close to collapsing from fasting.

Federal officials quickly arranged for doctors and other medical personnel to watch the jailed men around the clock after Thursday's report from Marsha Wilson, a nurse with the U.S. Public Health Service.The news prompted U.S. District Judge John Coughenour to grant the Freemen a victory in their battle not to participate in their trial. They have refused to come to court, contending the United States has no jurisdiction over them, and the judge told them Thursday they no longer even have to watch on television.

But he said the trial would continue.

Twelve defendants are charged with more than 40 crimes, including conspiracy, bank fraud, threatening a federal judge and armed rob-bery.

About two dozen Freemen held hundreds of FBI agents at bay for 81 days around their rural stronghold in eastern Montana in 1996. The standoff ended without a shot being fired when the last 16 surrendered.

Since then, court proceedings have been a mess. U.S. marshals have had to drag some of the Freemen to the viewing room each day in handcuffs and chains.