Argentina’s president was pressing her country’s claim to the Falkland Islands yesterday with a high-profile appearance before a little-known UN committee on the 30th anniversary of Britain’s ousting of an Argentinian invasion force.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s attendance at the annual meeting of the world body’s Decolonisation Committee, accompanied by dozens of supporters, was the first by a head of state.
By contrast, the Falkland Islands were represented by two members of the Legislative Assembly, accompanied by six young islanders.
Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands they call the Islas Malvinas since 1833, while Britain disputes Argentina’s claim to the islands and said it ignores the wishes of the island’s 3,000 residents who have expressed a desire to remain British.
Argentina maintains the residents do not have the unilateral right to decide what they want the islands to be.
The clash flared into a brief but bitter war in 1982 when Argentina’s then-military dictatorship invaded the archipelago in the south Atlantic, over 290 miles off South America’s coast.
Ms Kirchner had asked the 24-member Decolonisation Committee to schedule the annual discussion of the Falkland Islands’ status on the anniversary of Britain’s victory that ended the 74-day conflict, a move apparently aimed at highlighting the ongoing dispute.
The Falklands flag was flying above a number of British Government departments yesterday, including 10 Downing Street which said it was a tribute to those who died and a show of solidarity with the islanders of today.
The Ministry of Defence was also flying the flags of the three services – Army, Royal Navy and RAF – that drove out the Argentinian occupation.
The Falkland Islands government announced on Tuesday it plans a referendum next year on the political future of the archipelago, with Gavin Short, chairman of the Falklands’ legislature, saying he hoped it would help islanders “convey a strong message to the outside world”, about their desire to retain ties to London.
And hundreds of islanders yesterday joined British veterans and politicians, among them Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, in a bitter snow storm to mark the anniversary with a service at the cathedral in Stanley and an act of remembrance during which wreaths were laid at Liberation Memorial.
In a speech at the annual Falkland Islands Government reception last night, David Cameron paid tribute to the bravery of Baroness Thatcher and the Armed Forces during the conflict but he delivered a strong warning to Ms Kirchner.
“We’ve seen the president trying to restrict the movement of Falklands vessels, banning charter flights to and from Argentina and today, escalating the debate at the UN.
“I want to be absolutely clear – this Government’s long-term goal for Latin America is not bickering and hostility, it is partnership.
But he added: “When it comes to the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, there will be absolutely no negotiation. This is not some game of global Monopoly, with nations passing a territory between them. It’s about the islanders determining their own future.
“This has been their home for almost 180 years. There are children whose ancestors have lived there for generations. The roots go deep, and they will not be ripped out.”
He went on: “So my message to the government of Argentina is this: the UK has no aggressive intentions towards you. But do not under-estimate our resolve. Threats will not work, attempts to intimidate the islanders will not succeed, because Britain stands ready and willing to stand up for the Falkland Islanders at any time.