The FBI on Wednesday surrounded the last four demonstrators holed up in a weeks-long armed siege at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, US authorities said.
Negotiations between the occupiers and the FBI were ongoing and no shots had been fired, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said, on the 40th day of the standoff.
The siege at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge began on January 2 when protest leader Ammon Bundy and 30 armed followers, most of them from other US states, took over the site to demonstrate against federal land policies.
FBI agents were deployed at barricades “immediately ahead of and behind the area where the occupiers are camping,” the FBI said in a statement.
“It has never been the FBI’s desire to engage these armed occupiers in any way other than through dialogue, and to that end, the FBI has negotiated with patience and restraint in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully,” said Greg Bretzing, head of the FBI’s Portland office.
“However, we reached a point where it became necessary to take action in a way that best ensured the safety of those on the refuge, the law enforcement officers who are on scene, and the people of Harney County who live and work in this area.”
The FBI said that it moved in after one of the remaining occupiers drove an all-terrain vehicle past the barricades set up by the protesters.
FBI agents tried to approach the driver but he sped back to the refuge compound.
The Oregonian newspaper tweeted that the FBI told the occupiers that they would not escalate the situation in what was left of Wednesday, but were not leaving the scene either.
‘Need you alive’
Bundy, who was among a dozen people arrested late last month, has repeatedly called for the last four holdouts to call off the movement and leave peacefully.
Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who supports Bundy, was in Oregon on Wednesday and spoke to those left in the compound.
Among those at the protest site and refusing to surrender is David Fry, who has vowed to stand his ground.
“I need you guys alive,” she told them in a phone call which was live-streamed on the Internet, appealing for them to remain calm and reminding them that the call was being played to a live audience.
Among the original occupiers was Jon Ritzheimer, an Arizona man who gained notoriety for organizing anti-Islam demonstrations, and LaVoy Finicum, who acted as spokesman for the group and was killed by police after he drove out of the refuge and tried to run a roadblock.
Ritzheimer surrendered to police in Arizona late last month.
Gunmen took over the wildlife refuge to protest at the jailing of two local ranchers, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, who were convicted of arson.
Their demands soon grew to include calls for the government to turn over area federal land to local ranchers. In Oregon, nearly 53% of the land is federally owned.