Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was scheduled to press her country’s claim to the Falkland Islands with a high-profile appearance yesterday before a UN committee on the 30th anniversary of Britain’s ouster of an Argentine invasion force.
Fernandez’s attendance at the annual meeting of the UN’s Decolonization Committee is the first by a head of state. The Falkland Islands will be represented by two members of its 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.
Fernandez asked the 24-member Decolonization Committee to schedule the annual discussion of the Falkland Islands’ status yesterday on the anniversary of Britain’s victory that ended the 74-day conflict, a move apparently aimed at highlighting the ongoing dispute.
British Permanent Representative to the UN Mark Lyall Grant recalled that on the 20th anniversary of the conflict there were a lot of joint commemorative events honoring 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 is “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.”
At last year’s Decolonization Committee meeting, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman made a new call to Britain for “good faith” negotiations on the sovereignty of the islands 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 on Tuesday that it plans to hold a referendum next year on the political future of the archipelago.
The Falkland Islands’ Legislative Assembly Chairman Gavin Short 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.
Mike Summers, a member of the Falklands’ legislature, told reporters on Wednesday that yesterday’s meeting would mark “the first time that a head of state has ever come, sat on the floor and spoken at the committee.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the country would 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 yesterday’s anniversary, he said “next year’s referendum will establish the definitive choice of the Falkland Islanders once and for all.”