US militia reluctant to leave wildlife refuge

  • 07/01/2016
Protest leader Ammon Bundy (Reuters)
Protest leader Ammon Bundy (Reuters)

The leader of a group of armed men who took over a US wildlife refuge say they know they will have to go home, but they want results from their protest and feel it is not "quite time yet".

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

Launched following a bigger demonstration in support of two imprisoned local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr and his son Steven, the occupation has been marked by daily media briefings from the protesters, and by federal law enforcement agents keeping watch from a distance.

"There is a time to go home, we recognise that. We don't feel it's quite time yet," protest leader Ammon Bundy told a news conference at the refuge on Wednesday.

"We feel like we need to make sure the Hammonds are out of prison, or well on their way. We need to make sure there is some teeth in these land transfers. And also that those who have committed crimes, those are exposed as well."

Bundy said the group was compiling evidence to clear the Hammonds, who began longer prison terms this week for setting fires that spread to federal land.

Bundy said witnesses told them the blazes were started by federal agents.

"We believe we have enough of this to exonerate the Hammonds," he said. "If that is the only thing that is accomplished, then it will be well worth our effort."

Many residents of Burns see the occupation as the work of outsiders, and the Hammonds' lawyers have sought to dissociate themselves from the protesters.