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Argentina to UK: Prince arriving dressed as 'conquistador'

John Stillwell / AFP - Getty Images, file

Britain's Prince William will be deployed to the Falkland Islands early 2012 on a six-week tour of duty as a search and rescue helicopter pilot.

LONDON -- Argentina lashed out at Great Britain as Prince William headed to the Falkland Islands, saying that the second-in-line to the throne would arrive on the disputed South Atlantic archipelago "dressed in the uniform of a conquistador."

"The Argentinian people are disappointed that the heir to the throne is arriving on sovereign soil dressed in the uniform of a conquistador, and not with the wisdom of a statesman who works for peace and dialogue between nations," Argentina's foreign relations ministry said in a statement entitled "More diplomacy, fewer weapons" (link in Spanish).

The assignment of Prince William, a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, for a six-week military mission in the Falklands in February and March has been a sore point for Argentina. It has sought to reclaim the South Atlantic archipelago that it calls the Malvinas Islands ever since Britain seized the islands some 180 years ago.

Both countries have engaged in a war of words in recent weeks ahead of the 30th anniversary of Argentina's failed attempt to take the islands back. Its invasion ended with more than 600 Argentine soldiers killed and 200 British dead in an international humiliation for Argentina's military junta.

In the statement, the South American country also appeared to lecture the conservative-led government of David Cameron on the reasons behind William's deployment.

"Governments should avoid the temptation to indulge in speeches that transform patriotism into jingoism with the aim of distracting the public's attention from economic policies ... and high unemployment," the Argentine statement added.

Argentina says Prince Williams deployment to the Falklands is provocative. Britain says his deployment is routine for a search and rescue pilot. The timing Williams's deployment is sensitive because it is has been thirty years since British forces liberated the Falkland Islands from Argentina. ITN's Bill Neely reports.

The British government, which is struggling with high unemployment rates and sluggish growth, may have slipped back into recession at the end of 2011, some experts warn.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not immediately reply to msnbc.com's request for comment.

Little appetite for war
Weakened by that defeat 30 years ago, the Argentine dictatorship soon allowed the return of democracy, and the population has had little appetite since then for war.

Instead, Argentina hopes diplomatic and economic measures will pressure Britain to comply with United Nations resolutions encouraging both countries to negotiate the islands' sovereignty. British leaders have refused to do that.

The pressure on Britain includes a ban by South America's Mercosur nations on any Falklands-flagged vessels entering their ports. That action prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to accuse Argentine President Cristina Fernandez of having "colonialist" aims on an island population that wants to remain a British dependency. She accused Cameron of "mediocrity bordering on stupidity."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague came back with more fighting words Tuesday, telling Sky News that Britain is sending one of its most modern warships, the destroyer HMS Dauntless, to the Falklands. He called the deployment a routine replacement of another warship, but also stressed that "the Royal Navy packs a very considerable punch."

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “Flight Lieutenant Wales will complete a routine deployment to the Falkland Islands as part of a normal routine squadron crew rotation. This is part of his training and career progression as a Search and Rescue pilot within the RAF. It is entirely in line with normal squadron crew rotation for Search and Rescue pilots and in no way affects our policy on the Falkland Islands.
“In accordance with international law, we would expect international partners to recognise both our right to enact this deployment and the vital role search and rescue operations play in improving safety worldwide.”

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Msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.