Oregon occupation leader rejects sheriff's bid to end standoff

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Oregon Militia Shows No Sign Of Leaving

The leader of a group of armed protesters occupying the headquarters of a U.S. wildlife refuge in rural southeastern Oregon on Thursday rejected a sheriff's offer of passage out of the state to end the standoff.

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.

See images from the standoff:

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Ranching dispute in Oregon; protesters take over National Wildlife Refuge
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Oregon occupation leader rejects sheriff's bid to end standoff
KANAB, UT - FEBRUARY 5: A man holds a flag as two armed private security guards look on outside a Mormon church for the funeral of rancher Robert 'LaVoy' Finicum on February 5, 2016 in Kanab, Utah. Finicum who was part of the Burns, Oregon standoff with federal officials was shot and killed by FBI agents when they tried to detain him at a traffic stop on February 27, 2016. ( Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Law enforcement personnel monitor an intersection of closed Highway 395 in Burns, Oregon on January 26, 2016, during a standoff pitting an anti-government militia against the US authorities. One person died in an armed clash with police as they arrested the leaders of a group laying siege to an American wildlife refuge, the FBI said January 26. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on the sixth day of the occupation of the federal building in Burns, Oregon on January 7, 2016. The leader of a small group of armed activists who have occupied a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon hinted on Wednesday that the standoff may be nearing its end. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on the sixth day of the occupation of the federal building in Burns, Oregon on January 7, 2016. The leader of a small group of armed activists who have occupied a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon hinted on Wednesday that the standoff may be nearing its end. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 07: A member of an anti-government militia stands next to a campfire outside of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 7, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 07: A man wearing a patriotic jacket rides his horse on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on January 7, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Members of an armed anti-government militia, monitor the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon January 5, 2016. The occupation of a wildlife refuge by armed protesters in Oregon reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land. While the standoff in rural Oregon was prompted by the jailing of two ranchers convicted of arson, experts say the issue at the core of the dispute runs much deeper and concerns grazing or timber rights as well as permits to work mines on government land in Western states. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: Members of an anti-government militia stand outside of a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Ammon Bundy(2nd-L), leader of an armed anti-government militia, returns to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon January 5, 2016 following a news conference. The occupation of a wildlife refuge by armed protesters in Oregon reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land. While the standoff in rural Oregon was prompted by the jailing of two ranchers convicted of arson, experts say the issue at the core of the dispute runs much deeper and concerns grazing or timber rights as well as permits to work mines on government land in Western states. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: Ammon Bundy, the leader of an anti-government militia, speaks to members of the media in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: A view of the visitor center at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: A member of an anti-government militia stands outside of a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Ammon Bundy, the leader of armed protesters who have taken over a federal building in rural Oregon, told TODAY Monday that the group has no intention of committing violence unless the government intervenes.

Photo courtesy: NBC News

Members of a small militia at the entrance to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters property some 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016. The armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Deserted N. Broadway Avenue in Burns, Oregon is seen January 3, 2016, where 30 miles away a militia group has occupied the Malheur Wildlife Headquarters complex. Anti-government militiamen from several US states continued to occupy the federal wildlife facility in Oregon, saying their protest against the jailing of two ranchers could last years, media reported. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
A vehicle occupied by members of a small militia group enter the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters property some 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016. The armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Media gather outside the entrance of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016, where an armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Patric Batie, 14, walks along a road in Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016, some 30 miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters where a group of armed anti-government protesters have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some school to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
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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 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.

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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.

Residents of the area in a series of public meetings over the past few days 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. Many of the other occupiers also are from outside Oregon.

At least a dozen other armed men have been visible at the park headquarters, offices, a museum and outbuildings. They have come and gone freely from the park without interference from authorities, at times making trips into town.

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 at the time saw men running with firearms and heard angry shouting, but no shots were fired.

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The situation was more calm on Thursday when a series of 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 U.S. 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.'"

The Bundys say they want the federal government to turn over its land holdings in the area to local authorities and that they will leave after they have accomplished their goal.

Federal law enforcement agents and local police have so far kept away from the occupied site, maintaining little visible presence outside the park in a bid to avoid the deadly violence that erupted during conflicts with militants in Idaho and Texas in the 1990s.

But local officials have repeatedly asked the occupiers to go home, saying that even residents who support their views object to the illegal seizure of federal property.

"In reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States," Harney County Sheriff David Ward said in a statement earlier this week.

(Writing by Scott Malone and Dan Whitcomb; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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