Oregon stand-off leader rejects sheriff offer

  • 08/01/2016
Ammon Bundy meets with Harney County Sheriff David Ward (Reuters)
Ammon Bundy meets with Harney County Sheriff David Ward (Reuters)

The leader of a group of armed protesters occupying the headquarters of a US wildlife refuge in rural Oregon on Thursday rejected a sheriff's offer of passage out of the state to end the stand-off.

During a meeting at a neutral site, Harney County Sheriff David Ward offered to escort Ammon Bundy and his group of occupiers out of Oregon, but Bundy declined.

Bundy met the sheriff on a roadside after leaving the compound with other occupiers in two vehicles.

Following the brief meeting, Bundy told reporters that he would consider Ward's position, but the sheriff had not addressed their grievances.

"We always consider what people say," Bundy said.

The takeover that began on Saturday at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 48km south of the small town of Burns, is the latest incident in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of land and resources in the US West.

The move followed a demonstration in support of two local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr and his son Steven, who were returned to prison earlier this week for setting fires that spread to federal land.

A lawyer for the Hammond family has said that the occupiers do not speak for the family.

Residents of the area have expressed a mixture of sympathy for the Hammond family, suspicion of the federal government's motives and frustration with the occupation.

The leaders of the occupiers are Ammon and his brother, Ryan Bundy. Their father, Cliven Bundy, along with a band of armed men, stared down federal agents trying to seize his livestock in Nevada in 2014.

The Bundys' group said that on Wednesday night a group of three men entered the refuge unexpectedly and engaged in a brief confrontation with the occupiers.

Reuters journalists present saw men running with firearms and heard angry shouting, but no shots were fired.

The situation was calmer on Thursday when area ranchers visited for chats with the Bundys, who discussed their beliefs that the federal government had overreached its authority, often pausing to read from the US Constitution.

"Hopefully some of the ranching families and the community will come and support you guys," rancher Royce Wilber told them.

"That's what I wanted to post on Facebook, 'Quit bitching on your electronic devices and come down here and see these people because they are not how they are portrayed in the media'."