Argentine visits to Falklands permitted by deal

Andrew Grice@IndyPolitics
Wednesday 14 July 1999 23:02

FALKLAND ISLANDERS have reacted warily to yesterday's lifting of a ban on visits by Argentine citizens. The decision forms part of the first formal agreement between the British and Argentine governments since the 1982 war. Until now, the only Argentines allowed to set foot on the islands have been relatives visiting war graves.

Speaking after the London talks, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said that the deal was "an historic occasion" which heralded a new era of "co- operation and trust" between the two countries. But Guido di Tella, the Argentine Foreign Minister, admitted the agreement would have no bearing on his country's claims to sovereignty over the islands. And Falkland councillors, who represented islanders in the talks, said the agreement on access for Argentines would be a "bitter pill to swallow" for some of their fellow residents.

On Sunday, the Argentine flag was burned during a protest by 300 islanders in Port Stanley. But the agreement will bring benefits for the islands, whose isolation was further increased in March when Chile cancelled flights there in protest at Britain's detention of Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator.

The deal allows flights from Argentina for the first time since the conflict, while the Argentine government has won Chile's agreement to allow services to the island to resume. Some islanders will be irked by the presence on the first flight of Zulema Menem, daughter of the Argentine president, Carlos Menem, and by the president's pledge to visit before the end of the year.

A memorial to the Argentine war dead will be built in their cemetery on the island, but without a flag, and Argentine officials will review Spanish names imposed during the war and still used on their official maps of the island. Islanders will work with Argentina to conserve the South Atlantic fishing stocks.

Mr Cook said the agreement was good for the relationship between Argentina, Britain and the islanders. "Most of all this is good for the Falkland Islanders, who will be able to look forward with confidence," he said. "In the long run the greatest gain from this agreement is that it marks a change from an era of confrontation to a new period of dialogue and co-operation." The Foreign Secretary believed the "small minority" of islanders who were opposed to the deal would be won over once they saw the details.

Reservations amongst the Falkland councillors held up the agreement, which was expected to be signed on Tuesday. Their two representatives were concerned that the Argentines arrived at the talks apparently believing they already had a "done deal".

Sharon Halford and Mike Sumner signed up yesterday after consulting islanders. Ms Halford admitted reaction on the Falklands would be mixed.

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