CANNON BALL, N.D.- More than 2,000 U.S. military veterans plan to form a human shield to protect protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline project near a Native American reservation in North Dakota, organizers said, just ahead of a federal deadline for activists to leave the camp they have been occupying.
It comes as North Dakota law enforcement backed away from a previous plan to cut off supplies to the camp -- an idea quickly abandoned after an outcry and with law enforcement's treatment of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters increasingly under the microscope.
Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, a contingent of more than 2,000 U.S. military veterans, intends to go to North Dakota by this weekend and form a human wall in front of police, protest organizers said on a Facebook page. Organizers could not immediately be reached for comment.
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"I figured this was more important than anything else I could be doing," Guy Dull Knife, 69, a Vietnam War Army veteran, told Reuters at the main camp.
Dull Knife, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, said he has been camping at the protest site for months.
Morton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Rob Keller said in an email his agency was aware of the veterans' plans, but would not comment further on how law enforcement will deal with demonstrators.
Former U.S. Marine Michael A. Wood Jr. is leading the effort along with Wesley Clark Jr., a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii and a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, has said on Twitter she will join the protesters on Sunday.
The Army Corps, citing safety concerns, has ordered the evacuation of the primary protest camp by Dec. 5, but said it would not forcibly remove people from the land.
The protesters have spent months rallying against plans to route the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying it poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites.
Protesters include various Native American tribes as well as environmentalists and even actors including Shailene Woodley.
State officials issued an order on Monday, Nov. 28 for activists to vacate the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near Cannon Ball, N.D., citing harsh weather conditions.
The state's latest decision not to stop cars entering the protest site indicated local officials will not actively enforce Monday's emergency order to evacuate the camp issued by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
The 1,172-mile pipeline project, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, is mostly complete, except for a segment planned to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.