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Hundreds of veterans gathering at Dakota pipeline protest

MANDAN, N.D. - North Dakota authorities have said they’ll move away from a key bridge near the main Dakota Access pipeline protest camp by Sunday afternoon if demonstrators agree to certain conditions. The move was announced as hundreds of veterans descended on the site in support of the protesters.

A Morton County Sheriff’s Office news release details the conditions as outlined Saturday by Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney.

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“The question was asked if we would consider pulling back from the Backwater Bridge,” Laney said of a conversation between law enforcement and the organizers with Veterans Stand with Standing Rock, a group that will arrive on the reservation Sunday, “and the answer is yes! We want this to de-escalate.”

Authorities will move from the north end of the Backwater Bridge by 4 p.m. Sunday, they said, if protesters stay south of the bridge in the Oceti Sakowin camp, where thousands are camped out in protest against the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline, and come to the bridge only if there is a prearranged meeting with law enforcement.

Authorities also asked protesters not to remove barriers on the bridge, which they have said was damaged in the late October conflict that led to several people being hurt, including a serious arm injury. Protesters also are not supposed to walk, ride or fly drones north of the bridge, Laney said.

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The bridge blockade is something that Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault has been asking to be removed, the Bismarck Tribune reports , and something he said he would to talk to Gov. Jack Dalrymple about when they meet in person. A date for that meeting hasn’t been set.

The government has ordered people to leave main encampment that’s on federal land in southern North Dakota by Monday. But demonstrators say they’re prepared to stay, and federal, state and local authorities say they won’t forcibly remove the protesters.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others say the pipeline north of the reservation could pollute drinking water and threatens sacred sites and want changes made to its route. The pipeline is largely complete except for a short segment that is planned to pass beneath a Missouri River reservoir, and Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners says it is unwilling to reroute the project.

There could be as many as a few thousands veterans Sunday on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation near the encampment, according to protest organizers. They are expected to gather near the protests, then go to the main camp for a few days. Veterans Stand for Standing Rock spokeswoman Ashleigh Jennifer Parker told The Associated Press on Thursday that the group’s mission is “to go and ask and offer if we can help and support the tribes that are already there.”