Argentina's president is pressing her country's claim to the Falkland Islands with a high-profile appearance Thursday before a little-known United Nations committee on the 30th anniversary of Britain's ouster of an Argentine invasion force.
President Cristina Fernandez's attendance at the annual meeting of the world body's Decolonization Committee is the first by a head of state, and she is coming with dozens of supporters. By contrast, the Falkland Islands will be represented by two members of the Legislative Assembly, accompanied by six young islanders.
Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands they call the Islas Malvinas since 1833. Britain disputes Argentina's claim to the islands and says Argentina ignores the wishes of the island's 3,000 residents who have expressed a desire to remain British. Argentina maintains that the residents do not have the unilateral right to decide what they want the islands to be.
The clash over the islands flared into a brief war in 1982 when Argentina's then-military dictatorship invaded the archipelago in the south Atlantic, 460 kilometres off South America's coast.
Fernandez asked the 24-member Decolonization Committee to schedule the annual discussion of the Falkland Islands' status on Thursday's anniversary of Britain's victory that ended the 74-day conflict, a move apparently aimed at highlighting the ongoing dispute.
Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant recalled that on the 20th anniversary of the conflict there were a lot of joint commemorative events honouring the 649 Argentines, 255 British soldiers, and three islanders who died in the war and "it was done in a very statesman-like way."
It's "very sad," Lyall Grant said, that "this year the Argentinians for obviously purely domestic political reasons have hyped up the rhetoric in a massive way and are using every opportunity to try to internationalize the issue and get support from the regional organizations and make a song and dance at the UN."
For about a year, Argentina has been intensifying its campaign to pressure Britain into sovereignty talks, a theme it pushes in every international forum. The Argentine claim to the islands has support across Latin America, and the United States this week reiterated its neutrality.
At last year's Decolonization Committee meeting, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman made a new call to Britain for "good faith" negotiations on Falklands sovereignty, and Fernandez is likely to make a similar appeal. The committee itself reiterated its long-standing endorsement of talks.
Britain has refused Argentina's repeated calls to negotiate the islands' sovereignty, saying it's up to the islanders to decide.
The Falkland Islands government announced Tuesday it plans a referendum next year on the political future of the archipelago.
Gavin Short, chairman of the Falklands' legislature, said he hoped that a referendum would help the Falklanders "convey a strong message to the outside world," about their desire to retain ties to London.
After the 1982 war, the islands became a self-governing British overseas territory, with a directly elected legislative assembly that oversees the local government. Islanders still have British passports and benefit from a sizeable British defence force. While a visiting British governor still has veto power over local decisions, islanders say he's never used it.
In a speech on the 30th anniversary of Argentina's April 2, 1982 invasion of the islands, Fernandez said her government sets a global standard for protecting human rights and vowed to "respect the interests of the islanders" as her country seeks to peacefully regain control. "We don't have war drums, nor do we wear military helmets," she said.
Mike Summers, a member of the Falklands' legislature, told reporters Wednesday that Thursday's meeting will mark "the first time that a head of state has ever come, sat on the floor and spoken at the committee."
He said there are no formal arrangements for the Falklands delegation to meet Fernandez.
"It is normal protocol after the event for our delegation to shake hands with the leader of the Argentine delegation, but we don't know whether that will happen," he said.
Summers said he plans to tell the committee it is there to help the people of non-self-governing territories achieve the maximum internal self-government possible, not to judge a dispute between Argentina and Britain.
Fellow lawmaker Roger Edwards said he has three messages: "Self-determination. Self-determination. Self-determination. We have the right to determine our own future."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the country will abide by whatever choice the islanders make in the referendum — and he urged Argentina and its allies to do the same.
In a message on Thursday's anniversary, he said "next year's referendum will establish the definitive choice of the Falkland Islanders once and for all."
"And just as we have stood up for the Falkland Islanders in the past, so we will in the future," he said.
- Politics & Government
- Cristina Fernandez