The Justice Department yesterday agreed to pay $3.1 million to the family of Randy Weaver, the white separatist whose wife and 14-year-old son were killed in a violent 1992 standoff with federal law enforcement agents at a remote cabin in northern Idaho.

The government admitted no wrongdoing or legal liability in settling the claims brought by Weaver's family. Still, federal officials were clearly attempting to resolve a matter that has rocked the top ranks of the FBI and could prove more costly to resolve as evidence of possible government missteps in handling the cases is publicly aired.

"The settlement reflects the loss to the Weaver children of their mother and brother," a Justice Department release states. "By entering into a settlement, the United States hopes to take a substantial step toward healing the wounds the incident inflicted."

Under the settlement, each of the three surviving Weaver children -- Sara, 19; Rachel, 13; and Elisheba, 3 -- will receive $1 million and Randy Weaver will be paid $100,000 in satisfaction of "all claims . . . against the United States and its employees." Lawyers for the Weaver family had filed wrongful death claims totaling $200 million against the government and individual officials.

Yesterday's settlement comes on the heels of last week's Justice Department decision to open a criminal investigation to determine whether senior FBI officials lied or obstructed justice in an effort to undermine internal inquiries that followed the shootings. A Senate inquiry on the standoff is scheduled to begin early next month.

On Aug. 21, 1992, Weaver's son Samuel was killed in a firefight with U.S. marshals that also left Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan dead. A day later, an FBI sniper killed Randy Weaver's wife, Vicki, as she stood holding her 10-month-old daughter at the door of their Ruby Ridge cabin. FBI officials have claimed that Vicki Weaver's shooting was accidental, but lawyers for the Weavers have sharply contested that claim.

Justice Department civil lawyers began private negotiations with Weaver's attorneys several months ago and reached a verbal agreement the first week of August. "We recognized that an Idaho jury probably would give Weaver $200 million," said one Justice Department source. "They {the federal government} got off cheap," said Bo Gritz, the former Green Beret who successfully negotiated an end to the 11-day siege by persuading Weaver to surrender. "This is certainly no repayment for your mother."

"We hope that the ones responsible will be made accountable for what they've done -- we've always felt that way," said Vicki Weaver's mother, Jeane Jordison. "Money's never going to bring people back. The justice part is what we're interested in." The crisis started when a team of U.S. marshals were conducting what was described as a surveillance of Weaver's cabin and surrounding property as part of an elaborate, long-range plan to arrest him. He was wanted on charges of selling two sawed-off shotguns to a government informant and then failing to show up for trial. The marshals tossed rocks at the Weavers' dogs, then shot and killed one of them. In the ensuing gunfight, Degan and the Weaver boy were killed.

The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and hundreds of other law enforcement officers were quickly dispatched to the scene. FBI snipers were deployed under permissive rules of engagement that amounted to a "shoot-on-sight" policy. The next evening, Weaver; his daughter Sara; and foster son, Kevin Harris, 24, emerged from the cabin and headed for a shed where they had placed Sammy's body.

FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired a shot at Weaver, hitting him in the upper back as he was reaching up to unlatch the door of the shed. Weaver ran for the house, followed by his daughter and then Harris. Horiuchi fired again, just as Harris reached the door, which Vicki Weaver was holding open. The bullet hit her in the head and then tore into Harris, landing in his chest.

The FBI's first internal review of the killing absolved everyone involved in the incident, at Ruby Ridge and at FBI headquarters, concluding Horiuchi was justified in shooting Vicki Weaver because "she willfully placed herself in harm's way."

The bureau, however, resisted producing the review and backup papers when defense lawyers for Weaver and Harris demanded them in connection with the 1993 trial of the two men. Both were acquitted of all but minor charges. Since then, Justice Department officials have acknowledged the threat at Ruby Ridge was exaggerated and a special Justice Department task force concluded last year that the shot that killed Vicki Weaver was unjustified and the orders given to the snipers, unconstitutional. The task force report, still not officially released, shows that some FBI records concerning the incident disappeared. Task force investigators said "there were a number of instances in which an interviewee told us that he had prepared a document but no one could produce a copy of it," the report states.

Much of the recent controversy over Ruby Ridge has centered on whether then-Assistant FBI Director Larry Potts and other FBI headquarters officials approved the controversial "rules of engagement" that said that any armed adult in the vicinity of the Weaver cabin "could and should" be shot. Potts was demoted as FBI deputy director and then suspended last week along with three other senior FBI officials.

Weaver's lawyer, Gerry Spence, said he was troubled by the attention being paid in Washington to charges of a coverup because it "permits the FBI to focus on the shredding of papers instead of the shredding of human beings." He also voiced concern that much of the information needed for the upcoming Senate hearings "won't be forthcoming" because Justice Department officials will say it would interfere with administrative and criminal investigations now underway. Staff writer Richard Leiby contributed to this report. CAPTION: Vicki Weaver, who was killed, with eldest daughter, Sara, in late 1970s. CAPTION: Vicki Weaver stands with her children in August 1989, above, outside a rented Idaho home while the family was building their cabin. From left, the children are Samuel, Rachel and Sara. Samuel, who was killed in the 1992 firefight, is also shown at left; father Randy Weaver is at right.