BURNS, Ore. (AP) — The leader of an armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge in Oregon met briefly with a federal agent Friday, but left because the agent wouldn’t talk with him in front of the media.
The short meeting occurred as the standoff over federal land use policies stretches to the three-week mark and as Oregon officials are putting increased pressure on federal authorities to take action against Ammon Bundy’s group.
Bundy arrived at the airport in Burns late Friday morning, where the FBI has set up a staging area. On Thursday, Bundy went to the airport and spoke to an FBI negotiator over the phone. They agreed to speak again Friday, but Bundy left shortly after he arrived because the FBI agent he spoke with said federal authorities wanted any conversation to be private.
Bundy wants face-to-face conversations in front of reporters.
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“I really don’t think, at this point, even having another phone conversation here without him would be beneficial,” Bundy said before leaving.
He also questioned the FBI’s authority.
“If you haven’t got sanction from the sheriff, there’s no reason to be talking to you,” Bundy said.
A crowd of reporters watched the brief exchange, while state troopers and armed federal agents looked on.
Bundy’s group began occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon on Jan. 2.
The FBI did not immediately comment on Friday’s meeting with Bundy, but said in a statement Thursday their “response has been deliberate and measured as we seek a peaceful resolution.”
On Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she was angry because federal authorities have not taken action against Bundy’s group, which began occupying the refuge Jan 2. The Democratic governor said the occupation has cost Oregon taxpayers nearly half a million dollars.
Brown sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, urging them “to end the unlawful occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as safely and as quickly as possible.”
In a statement Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said it was “long past time for this illegal occupation to end and for the people of Harney County to get their lives back.”
The Democrat said he hope authorities could peacefully resolve the situation and hold Bundy’s group accountable.
At community meetings, some local residents have asked Bundy and his group to leave. However Bundy has said he believes his group’s work is appreciated by locals. He said the armed men have been “helping ranchers,” doing maintenance on the refuge because “it’s in a bad shape,” and taking care of fire hazards in the refuge’s fire house.
Bundy has also asked the FBI to let two ranchers sent to prison for arson go back home.
Earlier Bundy also said his group plans to have a ceremony Saturday for ranchers to renounce federal ownership of public land and tear up their federal grazing contracts. The armed group plans to open up the 300-square-mile refuge for cattle this spring.
Associated Press reporter Gosia Wozniacka contributed from Portland, Oregon.