US sheriff to armed militia: "Go home to your families"

The armed occupation of a US government facility in the western US state of Oregon by a self-styled militia continued Monday as the local sheriff called on protesters to "end this peacefully."

The group late Saturday took over the unoccupied headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, a rural community of 7,000 in the remote south-eastern part of the state.

Ammon Bundy, one of the leaders of the group that now calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, told media they had occupied the building in a bid to "restore and defend the Constitution" after what they described as abuses by federal authorities.

"We have allowed our federal government to step outside the bounds of the Constitution," he said, arguing that the wildlife refuge claims land not properly ceded by the state of Oregon.

Harney County Sheriff David Ward, who had characterized the protest instead as an attempt by outsiders to spark a movement to overthrow local and federal governments, told militia members was time to leave.

"It's time for you to leave this community, go home to your families, and end this peacefully," he said.

Resentments over federal control of public land have simmered for decades in the country's rural, conservative west, particularly among ranchers and loggers whose businesses require vast amounts of undeveloped land.

Bundy said the occupiers would defend themselves if confronted with force. Federal law enforcement were expected to proceed with caution after an armed standoff led by Bundy's father, rancher Cliven Bundy, in Nevada in 2014.

According to news reports Monday, law enforcement had not yet arrived at the remote, rural site or confronted the militia members.

It was unclear how many protesters were at the facility, with news reports putting the number at 15 or 20 and the militia claiming as many as 150.

In a video posted to social media, two men who identified themselves as protesters called on supporters to join them, saying that the more people at the site, the less likely the standoff would turn violent.

"We don't want bloodshed. We all want to make it home to our families, and I believe they want that on the other side as well," Jon Ritzheimer said.

The FBI said late Sunday it was working with state and local law enforcement to "bring a peaceful resolution" to the situation.

The armed occupation split off from a peaceful protest against plans to imprison father and son ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr and Steven Hammond for arson on government land, after a judge determined their previous jail time fell short of federal guidelines.

The Hammonds turned themselves in at a federal prison in California Monday.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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