The Army Corps of Engineers clarified Sunday it has no plans to force Dakota Access Pipeline protesters from federal land.
Rather, the Corps is hoping for a “peaceful and orderly transition to a safer location,” The Associated Press reports.
The Corps released a statement Friday informing tribal leaders that land north of the Cannonball River won’t be open to public access Dec. 5, citing safety concerns. As such, anyone who remains will count as a trespasser, meaning they could be prosecuted.
The land discussed by the Corps includes the main protest camp. If tribal leaders completely comply, the protest will essentially be over.
Just a few days prior to the letter, the military blog Task & Purpose published a piece about two veterans, one a former Army officer, who intend to deploy a large force of veterans to the area to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Wes Clark Jr. and Michael A. Wood Jr. hope to lead a force of 500 veterans to the region Dec. 4. The next morning, Dec. 5, the veterans will join the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to cross a river, break past opposition and surround a drilling pad to obstruct pipeline progress.
Tribal leader Dave Archambault said Saturday he and others have no plans to vacate the premises by the ordered date.
“We are wardens of this land. This is our land, and they can’t remove us,” protester Isaac Weston told The Associated Press. “We have every right to be here to protect our land and to protect our water.”
The Corps has proposed a new 41-acre free speech zone for the protesters to relocate to, which is located south of the Cannonball River.
“The Army Corps of Engineers has never been able to legally issue a permit for the Oceti Sakowin camp north of the Cannonball River due to the pre-existing grazing lease to a local rancher,” Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander Col. John Henderson said in a statement. “However, the Corps has established an area on land south of the Cannonball River for anyone wishing to peaceably protest the Dakota Access pipeline project. In this area, jurisdiction for police, fire, and medical response is better-defined since it is located inside of the Reservation boundary making it a more sustainable area for visitors to endure the harsh North Dakota winter.”