The firing of a Royal Navy frigate’s guns off the Falkland Islands was part of routine military exercises, the UK insisted after Argentina lodged a formal complaint over what it called a “provocation”.
Britain’s chargé d’affaires in Buenos Aires, Richard Barlow, was handed a formal letter of protest after being summoned over the alleged attempt to “demonstrate the British warship’s firepower”.
It is the latest diplomatic salvo in the long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the British overseas territory, which has re-erupted in recent years under the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
HMS Iron Duke last month fired 136 shells during a day of high-explosive training in San Carlos Water and Falkland Sound – the scene 32 years ago of the landings to retake the islands from the Argentinians.
The Portsmouth-based warship, which is in the latter stages of a six-month Atlantic deployment, teamed up with the islands’ Roulement Infantry Company and 148 (Meiktila) Battery Royal Artillery for the combined Army-Navy exercise.
A statement issued through the Argentine embassy said the live firing “constitutes a further provocation on the part of the United Kingdom government in an attempt to demonstrate the British warship’s firepower.
“The exercises also involved a British infantry company which is part of the permanent illegal military occupation of the Malvinas Islands.”
It went on: “The Argentine Republic rejects in the strongest possible terms the execution of naval and military exercises in an Argentine territory that is illegally occupied by the UK.”
An MoD spokesman said: “Royal Navy warships undertake regular training in the use of their weapon systems.
“The gunfire exercise conducted by HMS Iron Duke in the Falkland Islands took place some weeks ago and was part of a routine training schedule planned long in advance. There is no change to the UK’s defence posture in the South Atlantic.”