MORTON COUNTY , N.D., Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered protesters fighting the Dakota Access pipeline to vacate an area in North Dakota or face arrest.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement the tribe had received a letter announcing all lands north of the Cannonball River will be closed to the public as of Dec. 5 and a "free speech zone" will be established on Army Corps lands south of the river.
"This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions," Army Corps district commander Col. John Henderson said in the letter.
Archambault said the tribe was "deeply disappointed" by the news and called for people to appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama and the Army Corps to rescind the building permits.
"It is both unfortunate and ironic that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving – a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe," he said. "Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people. We have suffered much, but we still have hope that the president will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children."
Police responded to what some described as "riots" in the area's Backwater Bridge on Monday, as about 400 demonstrators reportedly moved against law enforcement.
Amnesty International criticized the decision of the sheriff's department in Morton County to use water cannons to disperse protesters in a letter to Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier on Tuesday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called for further review of tribal interests in the construction of the last few hundred feet of the pipeline, which requires drilling under the Missouri River, delaying the construction of the $3.7 billion pipeline meant to carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from North Dakota oil fields to Illinois and then onto the southern U.S. coast.