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UK accuses Argentina of 'harassment', 'threats' over Falkland Islands

The U.K.'s foreign minister accused Argentina of "harassment" and "threats" over the Falkland Islands, saying that its policy toward the south Atlantic islands was “deeply regrettable.”

William Hague made the comments in an article on Monday for the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the islands.


"In place of the dialogue and engagement we saw in the 1990s, Argentina has in recent years taken a range of measures to try to coerce the islands: from attempts to intimidate businesses involved in the hydrocarbons industry, to the harassment of Falkland fishing vessels by the Argentine coastguard; from threats to cut the one air link between the islands and South America, to actually closing its ports to cruise ships that have visited the Falklands," Hague wrote.

 

Services were being held in both Britain and Argentina to mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War, in which 255 British and 650 Argentine troops died. The conflict ended after 74 days when the Argentinian forces surrendered.

Relations between the countries are at their chilliest in years as Buenos Aires launches a multi-pronged diplomatic offensive to assert its claim to sovereignty over the South Atlantic islands, which it calls the Malvinas.

"I am a Malvinist president," President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said, according to The Guardian. "It is an injustice that a colonialist enclave still exists a few hundred kilometers from our shores in the 21st century. It is absurd to pretend dominion 8,000 miles overseas."

Fernandez addressed war veterans in the chilly Patagonian city of Ushuaia.

"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.

Oil discovery raises stakes
London has controlled the islands since 1833. Argentina has long claimed the territory, saying it inherited it from Spain on independence and that Britain expelled an Argentine population from the islands.

While a repeat of the 1982 military conflict is seen as highly unlikely, the dispute could jeopardize Britain's drive for closer economic and trade ties with emerging Latin America powers such as Brazil.

The discovery of oil off the Falklands has raised the stakes, leading Argentina to threaten to sue companies involved in oil exploration.

Argentina has also protested to the United Nations over British "militarization" of the South Atlantic.

The Guardian newspaper reported that Argentina has grown increasingly unhappy about the prospect of missing out on a potential £115 billion oil boom around the islands.

It has now escalated the dispute with a two-page letter sent to 15 banks, thought to include Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays Capital and Goldman Sachs, warning them of possible civil and criminal charges if they continue work with the five London-listed exploration companies.

Drive on other side of road
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said he remains committed to upholding British sovereignty over the islands, the BBC reported.

"We are rightly proud of the role Britain played in righting a profound wrong. And the people of the Falkland Islands can be justly proud of the prosperous and secure future they have built for their islands since 1982," he said.

Among those remembering the conflict on Monday was radio presenter Patrick Watts, whose studio was invaded at about 9 a.m. local time on April 2, 1982.

Six Argentine soldiers entered the room and pointed their guns at his back, he recalled in an interview with Britain’s Sky News.

The soldiers forced him to play pre-recorded tapes in Spanish and English ordering residents to drive on the other side of the road and speak Spanish in schools.

Although Argentina’s air force is now ageing, a report by the U.K. National Defence Association said Britain would be “hard put to protect, reinforce or re-take the islands” without an aircraft carrier.

Msnbc.com staff and Reuters contributed to this report.

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