Kim Sengupta: The intelligence was there – but did it justify torpedoes?

Some Argentinian commanders acknowledged that the Royal Navy was justified in its action

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The sinking of the Belgrano was the moment when all hopes of a negotiated settlement of the Falklands dispute effectively ended. The attack by the submarine HMS Conqueror, outside the exclusion zone around the Falklands announced by the UK, was held up by opponents of the war as evidence that the Thatcher government did not really want a negotiated resolution to the conflict.

Since then, however, testimonies of those involved at the time have presented a mixed picture. Some, including a few senior members of the Reagan administration, were of the view that the UK had torpedoed a peace deal put together by US Secretary of State Alexander Haig and the Peruvian President. But others, including Argentinian commanders, acknowledged that the Royal Navy was justified in its action because its ship's approach of the exclusion zone could be interpreted as a hostile act.

Rear-Admiral Walter Allara, in command of the Belgrano battlegroup, said: "The entire South Atlantic was an operational theatre for both sides. We, as professionals, felt it was just too bad that we lost the Belgrano." Admiral Enrique Molina Pico, head of the Argentinian Navy in the 1990s, said the cruiser was part of an operation that posed a real threat to the British task force and that she was holding off from carrying out an attack for purely tactical reasons.

But there was unease in Britain over what happened. The acquittal by a jury of Clive Ponting, a civil servant charged under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing details of the sinking to the media, was widely seen as a manifestation of the public not buying the Government's version of events.

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