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Members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, left, conduct a tour with the media. AP/Press Association Images

Armed militia refuse to leave government property after men they were "defending" hand themselves in

Police urged the protesters to “Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully.”

A BAND OF armed anti-government activists occupying a federal wildlife reserve in rural Oregon dug in for a fourth day today, after the ranchers they claimed to be defending denounced the siege and turned themselves in to the law.

The loose-knit band of farmers, ranchers and survivalists – who have dubbed themselves “citizens for constitutional freedom” – began the siege in protest at the jailing of Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, convicted of arson for setting fire to federal land.

They have vowed to be peaceful so long as police don’t take action, but say they are armed in case of armed intervention by the authorities.

Up to a hundred protesters are believed to be holed up at the snowy visitor’s centre for the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, which they took over to show solidarity with the Hammonds, and demand that a court rescind an order for their arrest.

The FBI is working with local law enforcement to bring a peaceful end to the standoff.

The rancher father and son who triggered the armed siege have firmly distanced themselves from it, and yesterday turned themselves in to begin serving their five-year sentence, which they condemned as “far too long.”

Ranching Standoff AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

They were being held at a federal prison in California, and announced they would seek rare clemency from President Barack Obama.

It was unclear whether their surrender to authorities would end the siege.

Police demanded that the remaining activists vacate the reserve.

“The Hammonds have turned themselves in. It is time for you to leave our community,” Harney County Sheriff David Ward told reporters.

“Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully.”

He denounced the fact that “a peaceful protest became an armed and unlawful protest.”

The Oregon protest is led by 40-year-old rancher Ammon Bundy. His father, a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy, was at the centre of a previous armed standoff with government authorities in 2014, that time over grazing rights on public lands.

Bundy told reporters he was fighting for freedom for the Hammonds, saying they were harassed for refusing to sell their ranch to the government.

- © AFP, 2016

Read: Explainer: Why are a group of gun-carrying ranchers staging a siege on government property?

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