Menem `sorry' for army lives lost

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The Independent Online
AN APOLOGY for the Falklands War which cost the lives of 252 British soldiers was issued last night by Carlos Menem, the President of Argentina, to signal a warming of relations before next week's visit to Britain.

President Menem's expression of "deep regret" for the war, which he said "should never have happened" was greeted by Downing Street as "welcome and significant."

However, his choice of the Sun, which ran the infamous headline "Gotcha!" over the sinking of the Belgrano, to convey his message of apology is likely to raise some eyebrows around Westminster.

The Prime Minister's Press Secretary, Alastair Campbell, acted as a go- between to approach the Argentine government for an article from President Menem.

"The President was happy to do this as a way of building on the theme of reconciliation which he hopes will be part of his visit next week," said the Number Ten spokesman.

"It underlines the fact that we have a new relationship with Argentina. There are well-stated differences but the relationship has changed. President Menem is not President Galtieri (the general who led the Junta in the war)."

President Menem wrote: "1982 was a sad and traumatic blot in the history of our relations. Some brave young Argentine and British soldiers lost their lives in a conflict that should never have happened and that we deeply regret."

Downing Street made clear that President Menem's visit, the first by an Argentine leader since the war, meant relations between the two countries were "back to normal". Mr Blair's official spokesman insisted the visit would not be overshadowed by the row over the arrest of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

Whitehall sources said the sovereignty of the Falklands was likely to be raised but the two sides had "agreed to differ" over the issue.