Transport Minister Jiro Kawasaki ordered top ministry officials Wednesday to do what they can to break a deadlock over the Narita airport expansion project by about April.

“I told officials to set up a table (for a dialogue with opponents to the project) as soon as possible, and do so over February, March and April,” Kawasaki said.

Kawasaki issued the instruction in a meeting with Parliamentary Vice Transport Minister Motoo Hayashi, Administrative Vice Transport Minister Masahiko Kurono and Toru Nakamura, president of New Tokyo International Airport Authority.

During the meeting, Kawasaki said Hayashi, who is a Diet member elected from Chiba Prefecture, should head the difficult task on the ministry side while working together with Nakamura, who handles the negotiation directly with those opposed to the construction of a second runway.

Kawasaki instructed the ministry and the airport authority jointly solve the issue through talks since time is running short a target date for expansion. The ministry hopes to complete the construction of the second runway at Narita airport by the end of fiscal 2000.

However, landowners of the proposed construction site and their supporters have firmly opposed the expansion project, and talks with the government remain at an impasse. Two households of opponent farmers currently live on the expansion site.

When the government built the first runway at the airport, which marked the 20th anniversary of its opening last year, it expropriated the land despite strong opposition from some farmers. This resulted in violent clashes between police and the farmers and leftist radicals who supported the farmers. The hostility lingers, halting the expansion project plan.

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