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Are three months enough time to persuade Narita landowners to sell after three decades in which they have steadfastly refused to make way for the New Tokyo International Airport?

Last month, the Transport Ministry set the Golden Week holidays in May as the deadline for breaking the current deadlock over acquisition of land it has long coveted for a second runway for the airport.

Two senior officials from the ministry and the New Tokyo International Airport Authority delivered letters last week to antiairport residents in the Toho district in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, calling for discussions. “I take the visit as a start,” Toru Nakamura, president of the airport authority, said at a recent news conference. “First of all, I hope they will sit down for a talk and then we can try to find a way to resolve the issue.”

The hand-delivered missives were intended to break the long deadlock on the issue as the governments self-imposed deadline for completing the second runway — the end of March 2001 — draws nearer. Construction is expected to take two years.

The landowners have yet to respond, but the chances of a breakthrough appear slim. They have a long history of rejecting talks with authorities. “I have been opposing the airport project for 30 years. I distrust the airport authority — that has not changed over the period. I have no intention to meet anyone (from the government),” said Shoji Shimamura, 52, whose farm and home are on the site of the proposed second runway.

Shimamura’s family and one other have refused to vacate property within the airport precinct, while several others possess the rights to a total of 2.5 hectares. In addition, 1,200 opponents to the airport jointly own 1 hectare. Of the 1,065 hectares the airport was planned to cover, only six remain out of the authority’s hands.

Conflict over the project dates back to the 1960s, when the central government decided to build an international airport on a site that included private farmland without obtaining the consent of the farmers. The government officially approved a plan to build the airport in Narita in 1966 and started construction in 1970.

Along the way, however, local farmers banded together and intensified their resistance, drawing nationwide support. A series of conflicts between the government and their opponents resulted in 13 deaths and left more than 3,800 injured, according to the Transport Ministry.

In the process, Narita airport — Japan’s main gateway to the world linking Tokyo with 34 countries — has been forced to operate with only one runway since it opened in May 1978. According to the original blueprints, the airport was to have three runways; two parallel runways and one cross-wind runway.

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