Sheriffs ask armed group in Oregon to leave. Will it listen?

The group, calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, says it wants an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land.

Jim Urquhart/Reuters
Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, on Thursday.

Three Oregon sheriffs met Thursday with the leader of an armed group occupying a federal wildlife refuge and asked them to leave, after residents made it clear they wanted them to go home.

Harney County Sheriff David Ward said via Twitter that he asked Ammon Bundy to respect the wishes of residents. He said sheriffs from two other counties were with him.

Sheriff Ward said the two sides planned to talk again Friday.

The Oregonian reported that Ward offered to provide Mr. Bundy and his group a safe escort out of the refuge.

"I'm here to offer safe escort out," the newspaper reported the sheriff telling Bundy. "Go back and kick it around with your folks."

On Wednesday night, residents attended a community meeting to air their views about the two dozen or so armed men hold up at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns.

Locals said they sympathized with the armed group's complaints about federal land management policies but disagreed with their tactics.

On Thursday, LaVoy Finicum, a leader of the armed group, told reporters, "We want all people to be safe. We want all law enforcement to be safe. We want our lives to be safe."

Ward said he hoped residents would put up a united front to peacefully resolve the conflict with the group.

"I'm here today to ask those folks to go home and let us get back to our lives," Ward said.

Schools were closed following the seizure of the refuge because of safety concerns in the small town in eastern Oregon's high desert.

The group, calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, says it wants an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land. Participants came from as far away as Arizona and Michigan.

Bundy came to Burns to rally support for two local ranchers who were sentenced to prison on arson charges. The ranchers – Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond – distanced themselves from Bundy's group and reported to prison on Monday.

The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago and served no more than a year. A judge later ruled that the terms fell short of minimum sentences requiring them to serve about four more years.

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