US veterans to form human shield at North Dakota pipeline protest

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CANNON BALL, N.D., Nov 30 (Reuters) - More than 2,000 U.S. military veterans plan to form a human shield to protect protesters of a 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.

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.

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Police confront protesters with a rubber bullet gun during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith 
A rubber bullet and a rubber bullet wound are displayed for the camera during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
A protester watches the confrontation with police from the sidelines during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Police use a water cannon to put out a fire started by protesters during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Police use a water cannon to put out a fire started by protesters during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Police use a water cannon to put out a fire started by protesters during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
A protester watches the police during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
A protester gets warm by a fire during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Protesters stand off with police during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
A horse gallops through a confrontation between police and protesters during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Police use a water cannon on protesters during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
A protester is given medical attention during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
A protester is given medical attention during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Police tear gas protesters during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
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State officials issued an order on Monday for activists to vacate the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, 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 Governor Jack Dalrymple.

Dalrymple warned on Wednesday that it was "probably not feasible" to reroute the pipeline, but said he had requested a meeting with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council to rebuild a relationship.

"We need to begin now to talk about how we are going to return to a peaceful relationship," he said on a conference call.

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The 1,172-mile (1,885 km) 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.

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.

"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.

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Celebrities hold protest for the North Dakota pipeline
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Actor Shailene Woodley stands with Native Americans on stage during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Actor Susan Sarandon (R) smiles during an interview with author Greg Palast (C) and Mark Ruffalo (L) backstage at a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actor Shailene Woodley closes her eyes as rain falls during a prayer circle at a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actors Frances Fisher, (L), Jaden Smith, and Kendrick Sampson (R) raise their hands into the air as they stand with an attendee during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actors Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo, director Josh Fox, Frances Fisher and author Greg Palast pose for a photograph backstage during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
A woman stands with "No Ometeotl DAPL" drawn on her face during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Lehi Thundervoice Eagle Sanchez looks up during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actor Susan Sarandon stands backstage at a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actor Mark Ruffalo speaks during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Attendees stand together during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actor Shailene Woodley holds hands as rain falls during a prayer circle at a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actor Shailene Woodley hugs a woman wearing a #NoDAPL shirt on stage during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Joann Mae Spotted Bear speaks on stage with actor Frances Fisher during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
An attendee carries a flag in support of Native Americans during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
People attend a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actor Mark Ruffalo (L) speaks backstage with Nalleli Cobo, 15, during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Ed Begley Jr. attends a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actor Frances Fisher speaks on stage during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Actors Frances Fisher and Kendrick Sampson hug during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Attendees raise their fists into the air during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
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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 General Wesley Clark.

U.S. Representative 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.

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Local law enforcement said on Tuesday they planned a blockade of the camp, but local and state officials later retreated, saying they would only check vehicles for certain prohibited supplies like propane, and possibly issue fines.

Dalrymple on Wednesday said state officials never contemplated forcibly removing protesters and there had been no plans to block food or other supplies from the camp. "That would be a huge mistake from a humanitarian standpoint," he said on the conference call.

He also warned protesters that while emergency responders will try to reach anyone in need, that would be contingent on weather conditions.

Protesters, who refer to themselves as "water protectors," have been gearing up for the winter while they await the Army Corps decision on whether to allow Energy Transfer Partners to tunnel under the river. That decision has been delayed twice by the Army Corps.

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