Ammon Bundy rejects sheriff's offer of safe passage out of Oregon federal building
Ammon Bundy speaks at a press conference in Oregon (Screen grab)

The leader of a group of armed protesters occupying a U.S. wildlife refuge in rural southeastern Oregon on Thursday rejected a sheriff's offer of passage out of the state to end the standoff.

Protest leader Ammon Bundy met with Harney County Sheriff David Ward, who offered to escort the occupiers out of the state as a way to end the standoff, but Bundy declined.

Bundy had left the compound with other occupiers in two vehicles to meet the sheriff at a neutral location.

The takeover that began on Saturday at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles (48 km) south of the small town of Burns, is the latest incident in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of land and resources in the U.S. West.

The move followed a demonstration in support of two local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven, who were returned to prison earlier this week for setting fires that spread to federal land.

A lawyer for Hammond family has said that the occupiers do not speak for the family.

(Writing by Scott Malone and Dan Whitcomb; editing by Cynthia Osterman)