Argentina chides Britain on Falklands war anniversary

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 02, 2012 3:45 PM
Argentina chides Britain on Falklands war anniversary

By Miguel Lobianco

USHUAIA, Argentina (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez marked the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war on Monday with sharp criticism of Britain for maintaining "colonial enclaves" and a renewed call for sovereignty talks.

Fernandez has intensified pressure on London to negotiate the sovereignty of the islands in the run-up to the anniversary of the 10-week war that Britain and Argentina fought over the remote South Atlantic archipelago in 1982.

Britain says it will agree to talks only if the 3,000 islanders want them - something they show no sign of doing - and British Prime Minister David Cameron stuck to that position on Monday.

While trying to build support for Argentina's stance in Latin America and elsewhere, Fernandez's government has also sought to disrupt oil exploration in the Falklands with legal threats and shipping curbs.

Addressing war veterans in the chilly Patagonian city of Ushuaia, Fernandez said it was "an injustice that in the 21st century colonial enclaves like the one we've got a few kilometers away continue to exist."

"We demand too that they stop plundering our environment, our natural resources - fish and oil," she said, reiterating her calls for London to agree to sovereignty negotiations.

"We're not demanding anything more than that - dialogue between both countries to discuss the sovereignty issue, respecting the interests of the islanders," said Fernandez, a combative center-leftist who easily won re-election last year.

The Falklands war began when Argentine troops landed on the islands on April 2, 1982, and ended 74 days later with their surrender. The conflict killed about 650 Argentine and 255 British troops.

While the war is widely seen as a mistake by the discredited military dictatorship ruling at the time, most Argentines think the islands belong to Argentina and they remain a potent national symbol in the South American country.

The craggy outline of the islands, which Britain has controlled since 1833, is a familiar sight on t-shirts and posters. Newspapers carry a daily weather forecast for the Malvinas, as the islands are called in Spanish.

In London, Cameron, who has traded cross words with Fernandez in recent months, said it was up to the islanders to decide their future.

"Britain remains staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future," he said.

Three decades after the war, pro-British feeling and suspicion of Argentina is again running high in the Falklands, which lie nearly 8,000 miles from London and just a 75-minute flight away from southern Argentina.

Falklands residents say the tough words from Buenos Aires make them more determined than ever to maintain a status quo that was vigorously defended in 1982 by then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Critics of Fernandez say pushing the sovereignty claim gives her a convenient distraction from economic challenges such as high inflation and a slowdown after years of brisk growth.

She rejected that on Monday, saying Cameron had far more reason to use the issue to distract voters from economic problems at home.

"It's an argument that they can't apply to us," she said. "It's far more applicable to the United Kingdom."

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Frances Kerry)