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​Sheriff meets with Oregon militia, tells them to leave

Last Updated Jan 7, 2016 9:38 PM EST

BURNS, Ore. -- An Oregon sheriff met Thursday with a small, armed group that has been occupying a national wildlife refuge and asked them to leave peacefully.

Harney County Sheriff David Ward offered the group free and clear escort out of the county to end the standoff, but group leader Ammon Bundy refused.

Ward asked Bundy to talk it over with his members and said he would call Friday to find out what they had decided.

"There are some positives that could come out of this," Ward told Bundy during their meeting at the intersection of two remote roads.

"Before this thing turns into something negative, which would ruin all of that, I think we need to find a peaceful resolution to help you guys get out of here," Ward said.

Bundy replied that his complaints about federal land management policies are not being addressed.

"We're getting ignored again, sir," said Bundy. "I didn't come to argue," Ward said, and Bundy replied neither had he.

Ward said he would call Bundy on Friday to talk more.

The group objecting to federal land policy seized buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon's high desert country on Saturday. Authorities have not yet stepped in to remove the group of roughly two dozen people, some from as far away as Arizona and Michigan.

Ward was cheered at a packed community meeting in Bend, Oregon, on Wednesday evening when he said the group needed to leave so local people could get back to their lives.

Group leader Ammon Bundy has told reporters they will leave when there's a plan in place to turn over federal lands to locals. The group also objects to a lengthy prison sentence for two local ranchers convicted of arson.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday called the occupation "unlawful" and said it had to end.

"It was instigated by outsiders whose tactics we Oregonians don't agree with. Those individuals illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge need to decamp immediately and be held accountable," she said.

Bundy's 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 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.