• Kyodo

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Despite opposition from landowners, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is ready to begin procedures that will enable the state to continue leasing a number of sites in Okinawa Prefecture to the U.S. military, according to government officials.

The Naha Regional Defense Facilities Administration Bureau last month asked Mori to begin the procedures, saying the landowners are unlikely to agree to allow use of their land ahead of the expiry of the state’s current forcible use arrangements at the end of next March, they said.

The government will later ask the landowners to sign new leases. Even if they refuse, the prime minister can sign them instead under an April 1997 amendment to the Special Land Use Law.

After the signing, Okinawa Prefecture’s expropriation commission will be asked to make a final decision on the matter, but if the panel makes no decision in two months, the prime minister can opt to continue using the land under the revised law.

This would be the first time the procedures have been used since the law revision transferred the authority to sign such forcible land use contracts from the prefectural governor to the prime minister.

The land in question totals 384 sq. meters on U.S. military sites, including a 236-sq.-meter portion of the U.S. Navy’s Sobe Communications Site in the village of Yomitan.

The Sobe facility site is owned by Shoichi Chibana, 52, a leading antimilitary activist who currently serves as a Yomitan village assemblyman.

A forced lease arrangement for Chibana’s land expired in March 1996, temporarily making the state’s use of the site illegal, with then Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota refusing to sign a renewal of the contract.

The Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa announced in 1996 that the Sobe facility would be returned to landowners by the end of March 2001, one of the measures worked out by the committee to reduce the U.S. military’s presence.

But the Naha Regional Defense Facilities Administration Bureau said the reversion is unlikely to be achieved by then.