Argentina and Britain on Monday marked 30 years since they went to war over the Falkland Islands, with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez calling British rule over the disputed islands “absurd.”
“It is absurd to claim control [of the Falklands] from 14,000km away when the territory is on our continental shelf,” Fernandez said in a 20-minute speech to veterans of the bloody 74-day conflict.
Fernandez traveled to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, to pay homage to the 649 Argentine victims of the conflict, which began with a surprise Argentine invasion of the remote islands on April 2, 1982.
The war ended in a humiliating defeat for Argentina when then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher sent in a naval task force to reclaim the archipelago that Britain has ruled since 1833.
After the long voyage, the British force launched an assault from the sea, fighting hilltop by hilltop to wrest control of the windswept islands. A total of 255 British service members died in the war.
In Britain, British Prime Minister David Cameron stressed his country remains “staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland islanders alone, to determine their own future.”
“Thirty years ago today the people of the Falkland Islands suffered an act of aggression that sought to rob them of their freedom and their way of life,” he said.
Tensions over the islands flared over the past two years, after Britain gave companies permission to search for offshore oil deposits in Falklands waters. Analysts say untapped oil reserves discovered in 1998 could be worth tens of billions of US dollars.
Fernandez said Buenos Aires would respect the interests of 3,000 Falkland Islanders who remain loyal to Britain.
“We are not asking for anything more than a dialogue between the two countries to discuss the issue of sovereignty, respecting the interests of the islanders as stated in UN resolutions,” she told the crowd.
“It is an injustice that in the 21st century, a total of 16 colonial enclaves still exist, including 10 ruled by Britain,” Fernandez said.
Earlier, about 5,000 people attended a remembrance vigil in honor of the war dead in Ushuaia.
Buenos Aires has also accused London of militarizing the seas around the islands and has taken its complaints to the UN.
The British Ministry of Defence said on Monday that the HMS Dauntless, a destroyer, would head to the South Atlantic today for a six-month patrol.
At the UN, the head of the Union of South American Nations was to meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday to deliver a letter of support for Argentina in its row with Britain.
The UN decolonization branch has called on London to open a dialogue on the islands. Britain has refused.
“The islands are British, we have full rights on the islands,” Falklands Governor Nigel Haywood said last week. “The islanders themselves want to be British.”
At Britain’s National Memorial Arboretum in central England, a candle was lit in memory of the veterans who lost their lives and will burn for 74 days to represent the duration of the conflict.
Commander Peter Mosse, who captained a British naval frigate during the war, said after the service that the conflict was the product of the domestic situation in Argentina, which in 1982 was under the rule of a military junta.