YOMITAN, Okinawa — Japan has renewed the forced lease of an anti-base activist’s property at the U.S. Navy’s Sobe Communications Site.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last week approved the renewed lease of 1/20th of an acre, about 282 square yards, owned by Shoichi Chibana, a member of the Yomitan Village Assembly and a longtime anti-base activist.

Ever since the lease to Chibana’s property expired in 1996, he has refused to approve its renewal, forcing the national government to sign the paperwork allowing the continued use of the land for the communications facility.

A spokesman for the Defense Facilities Agency’s Naha Bureau on Friday confirmed the action by the prime minister.

“On December 24 the agency requested the prime minister to renew the current lease, which is to expire in May 31,” the spokesman said. “The approval by the prime minister is one of the required procedures under the Special Land Lease Law. It allows the Okinawa Eminent Domain Committee to make a formal decision on the renewal of the lease.”

Chibana couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

The 132-acre base, known locally as the “elephant cage” because of the circular array of radio antennas, was to be replaced by a site on Camp Hansen and returned to the Okinawa landowners by the end of May. But technical problems have delayed moving operations to the Marine base.

In December, U.S. Forces Japan said that while most of the site construction on Camp Hansen is complete, “a key communications system being developed in the [United States] has not satisfactorily passed its tests.”

No firm turnover date has been scheduled, although the United States and Japan are working on ways to make the transfer at the earliest opportunity, the USFJ spokesman said.

The project is already four years behind schedule. In 1996, the two governments agreed to reduce the amount of land occupied by U.S. military bases on Okinawa by 21 percent. The Sobe site was to be turned over by March 2001.

Chibana is the only one of the 452 landowners who did not voluntarily agree to a renewed lease of his property.

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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