One dead as FBI arrests leader of Oregon occupation

Leader Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, on Jan 5, 2016.
Leader Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, on Jan 5, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

OREGON (REUTERS) - The leader of an armed occupation at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon was arrested on Tuesday (Jan 26) during a confrontation in which one person was killed and another wounded, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said.

Protesters were still occupying the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon after leader Ammon Bundy's arrest and the FBI was setting up a perimetre, a law enforcement official told Reuters.

The takeover at Malheur that started on Jan 2 is the latest flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over the US government's control of land in the West.

Four other people were taken into custody along with Bundy following the confrontation along Highway 395 in north-east Oregon, according to the FBI. A fifth individual was arrested by the Oregon State Police in a separate incident in Burns, Oregon.

All of those arrested face federal charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said.

The Oregonian newspaper reported that Bundy had been en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, with several other members of the occupation, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker, when the authorities stopped his vehicle.

Some 40km of Highway 395 was shut down in both directions following the incident, a spokesman for the state department of transportation said.

Local media reported that a hospital in nearby Burns had been placed on lockdown. Reuters could not immediately confirm that report.

The occupiers of the wildlife refuge said they were supporting Steven and Dwight Hammond, two local ranchers who were returned to prison this month for setting fires that spread to federal land. The ranchers' lawyer has said the occupiers do not speak for the family.

Burns Mayor Craig LaFollette told Reuters that while he had limited information about the night's events, he hoped the stand-off would come to a peaceful end.

"I think my perception is that people's patience was running thin and that the community as a whole was looking for some resolution and to have these people leave," he said.

Law enforcement officials had largely kept their distance from the buildings at the refuge, 48km south of the small town of Burns in rural south-east Oregon's Harney County, in the hope of avoiding a violent confrontation.

Local residents have expressed a mixture of sympathy for the Hammond family, suspicion of the federal government's motives and frustration with the occupation.