Argentina steps up pressure on Falklands

Buenos Aires is to raise the issue of the islands' sovereignty at the UN
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Warning that the diplomatic stand-off with Britain over the Falkland Islands was "worsening", the foreign minister of Argentina, Jorge Taiana, said last night he had formally asked the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, to use his influence to kick-start talks to resolve the situation.

Speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters, Mr Taiana reiterated Argentina's claim that Britain's decision to allow oil drilling in disputed waters was "clearly illegal" and in violation of international resolutions. He did not say which resolutions he had in mind, nor would he indicate whether his government would introduce a resolution to either the UN General Assembly or the Security Council.

In low-key tones, Mr Taiana said that Mr Ban "was not happy" to hear of the renewed tensions between the countries and had told him he would "use his good offices" to broker an end to the dispute. But the minister conceded that dialogue would only take place if Britain was willing to participate. London has so far not conceded that any international laws or resolutions have been violated.

Tensions between London and Buenos Aires have flared since a Scottish oil rig arrived off the Falklands to start drilling. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has since engaged in a war of words and ordered that any ships passing through Argentine waters to the islands must have permits.

Mr Taiana arrived in New York from a regional summit in Mexico armed with a statement of support from 23 Latin American and Caribbean nations. President Lula da Silva, of Brazil, had sharply criticised Britain at the end of the talks.

The regional leaders' joint statement supported "the legitimate rights of the Republic of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". It said the two nations should resume talks "in order to find a just, peaceful and definitive solution" to the dispute.

Mr Taiana said Argentina was determined to exert sovereignty over the islands "because they are part of the Argentine territory" even if a majority of inhabitants there wanted to remain British. It would not be normal, he said, to take "a special group of a country and let them decide who they want to be".

In London, the Foreign Office tried again to damp down the row. "We have no interest in escalating the kind of rhetoric that some people have been engaged in," Chris Bryant, the minister with responsibility for Latin America, told Sky News. "We're just very certain that the Falklands are British; the Falkland islanders want to be part of the UK and we welcome that and we stand by them."

The islands' Legislative Assembly in Port Stanley issued a statement accusing the Kirchner government of "using the sovereignty claim to cover for their internal problems". It went on: "There is a strong feeling within the islands that Argentina is using us, like it did so many times in the past."