US authorities tighten security and urge occupiers to leave after militiaman was killed during FBI operation.
State and federal authorities have urged a group of armed men still occupying a US wildlife refuge in Oregon to abandon the protest over land rights, a day after their leader and seven other people were arrested and one man was killed.
Law enforcement tightened security around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday after occupation leader Ammon Bundy and his group were taken into custody at a traffic stop on Highway 395 in northeast Oregon.
One member of Bundy’s group was killed during that confrontation, identified by activists as Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers. Bundy’s brother, Ryan, was wounded.
The police set up a series of checkpoints along key routes in and out of the refuge. Only ranchers who own property in the area were allowed in and anyone coming out of the refuge had to show identity and have their vehicle searched.
At a news conference in Burns, Oregon on Wednesday morning Greg Bretzing, FBI special agent in charge of the agency’s Portland office, said that the remaining occupiers were “free to leave” the refuge, saying they would be identified at checkpoints manned by law enforcement.
“Let me be clear: It is the actions and choices of the armed occupiers of the refuge that have lead us to where we are today,” Bretzing said.
Earlier, groups sympathetic to the occupiers called for calm.
The Pacific Patriots Network, Oath Keepers and the Idaho III% – all self-styled militia groups sympathetic to the occupiers – said in a joint statement they were issuing an immediate “stand by” order to followers.
“We have confirmed that all women and children are off of the Refuge at this time. It is confirmed that the authorities have the Refuge surrounded and have made no attempts to ambush. We have inside sources telling us that they have been in contact with the authorities trying to work out a peaceful resolution,” the statement said.
Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman, reporting from Washington DC, said approximately 40 people, including women and children, remained inside the compound.
One of the remaining occupiers at the reserve, Jason Patrick, told the Reuters news agency by phone they would stay until the “redress of grievances”.
“I’ve heard ‘peaceful resolution’ for weeks now and now there’s a cowboy who is my friend who is dead – so prepare for the peaceful resolution,” Patrick said.
On Wednesday morning an occupier posted what appeared to be a live feed from the refuge on a YouTube page called “DefendYourBase.” In it, a few occupiers, some dressed in camouflage, were seen in front of what appeared to be a heavy-duty 320D excavator, at least two of them carrying firearms.
At one point, a man spoke on a phone with a person he identified as his mother and offered her reassurance.
“If I die, I died for my country, I died a free man,” he said. “That’s how I want to die.”
The man added that his group had “food and everything for the long haul”.
The Malheur takeover, which started January 2 with at least a dozen armed men, was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres in the West. Protesters say they are defending the Constitution.
Bundy’s father, Cliven, was a key figure in a 2014 armed standoff with federal officials over unpaid grazing fees in Nevada.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies