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Britain steps up its claim to the Falkland Islands


David Usborne
Saturday 04 February 2012 01:00 GMT
Demonstrators outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires
Demonstrators outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires (Reuters)

Britain has told Argentina to go back to its own history books to understand why it can have no claim over the Falkland Islands and why there will be no negotiations on sovereignty as it is demanding.

The details of the Britain's territorial embrace of the islands going back to 1765 and the ejection of an Argentine garrison in January 1833 are laid out in a letter delivered by the British ambassador to the UN, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and seen exclusively by The Independent.

The five-page rebuttal to a protest letter distributed by the Argentine government to all the members of the UN General Assembly early last month is more comprehensive than any in the past, diplomatic sources said. The exchange came as tensions between the two countries were escalating even before the arrival on the islands on Thursday of Prince William on a six-week deployment for the Royal Air Force.

The impending 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, as well as the decision in London to deploy the HMS Dauntless, has also been a factor in the deepening diplomatic crisis. Late Thursday a Union Jack was burned outside the British Embassy by demonstrators and the Vice President, Amado Boudou, publicly suggested Britain was stoking the stand-off to distract its own population from domestic problems.

The British letter, dated 27 January, chastises Argentina for a series of recent Falklands-related measures, including cajoling neighbouring countries into turning away any ships flying the Falklands flag. "These disturbing developments call into question the commitment of the Republic of Argentina to peaceful cooperation in the South Atlantic," it says.

It opens however with a history lesson not likely to be well-received in Buenos Aires. It notably highlights an alleged flaw in Argentina's position that the islands are part of the territory of the Tierra del Fuego province. It was half a century after the 1833 incidents that Tierra del Fuego even became part of Argentina, the letter, asserts. British sovereignty on the islands goes back, by contrast, to 1765.

"In 1833 the territorial borders of the Republic of Argentina did not include the geographical southern half of its present form," Sir Mark wrote. These facts demonstrate "that the Republic of Argentina's claim to the Islands which it bases on the principle of disruption to its territorial integrity is without foundation".

The request repeatedly made by Buenos Aires for negotiations on the future of the islands is rejected by Sir Mark on the grounds that those living on the island are entitled to self-determination, which is enshrined in the UN Charter itself, and do not seek any change.

"There can and will be no negotiation on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the Falkland Islanders so wish," Sir Mark insists. "The United Kingdom and the Republic of Argentina cannot negotiate away the right to self-determination. It is a principle that we are both legally bound to respect."

The British Defence Secretary, Mr Philip Hammond, yesterday played down Prince William's deployment. "He's there as a search and rescue pilot, that's a humanitarian function and it's a routine deployment."

In his letter, Sir Mark meanwhile turned back Argentine complaints about short-range missile exercises. "The United Kingdom undertakes routine military exercises... it has done so since they were deployed there in response to the Republic of Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982."

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