The leader of a group of armed protesters occupying the headquarters of a federal wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon met briefly with a local sheriff on Thursday but rejected the lawman’s offer of safe passage out of the state to end the standoff.
Ammon Bundy and other occupiers left the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in two vehicles and traveled to a neutral location along a remote Oregon roadside to meet for about five minutes with Harney County Sheriff David Ward.
During that meeting, which was attended by two Reuters reporters, Ward told Bundy that he was seeking a peaceful resolution to the nearly week-long standoff and offered to escort the occupiers out of Oregon.
But Bundy, saying that the sheriff had not addressed the occupiers’ grievances, declined.
“We plan on staying,” Bundy told reporters following a meeting. “I’m not afraid to go out of state. I don’t need an escort.”
The sheriff’s office later said in a tweet that Ward had plans to meet with Bundy again on Friday.
The takeover that began on Saturday at the headquarters of the refuge, about 30 miles (48 km) 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 U.S. 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 Hammond family has said that the occupiers do not speak for the family.
Local residents have expressed a mixture of sympathy for the Hammond family, suspicion of the federal government’s motives and frustration with the occupation.
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