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Falkland Islands will vote on political status

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
Locator map of the Falkland Islands.
Locator map of the Falkland Islands.
  • The Falkland Islands will hold a referendum on its governance
  • The vote has the backing of the British government
  • Argentina also claims the British-held islands

(CNN) -- The Falkland Islands government announced Tuesday that the British territory will hold a referendum on its political status.

The vote is intended to affirm islanders' desire to remain a self-governing territory of the United Kingdom and to reject claims of ownership by nearby Argentina.

The Argentine government in recent months has stepped up its rhetoric over the Falklands, saying that the U.K. is exploiting the resources of the islands it calls Las Malvinas. The British defeated Argentina in a 1982 war over the territory.

"We have thought carefully about how to convey a strong message to the outside world that expresses the views of the Falklands people in a clear, democratic and incontestable way," said Gavin Short, chairman of the Falklands legislative assembly. "So we have decided, with the full support of the British government, to hold a referendum on the Falkland Islands to eliminate any possible doubt about our wishes."

The vote will take place in the first half of 2013.

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The Argentine government did not immediately respond to the announcement.

Short accused the Argentine government of misleading rhetoric that implies that there is local support for Argentine rule.

"We certainly have no desire to be ruled by the government in Buenos Aires, a fact that is immediately obvious to anyone who has visited the islands and heard our views," he said.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the war. The Falklands have been under British rule since 1833. Britain won the 74-day war that began with an Argentine invasion attempt, but Argentina still presses claims to the islands, which are home to more than 3,000 people.

The most recent controversy regarding the Falklands happened last month, when Argentina released a video boosting its Olympic team that was filmed on the islands.

The advertisement showed Argentine field hockey star Fernando Zylberberg training in the streets of Port Stanley in the Falklands. The video ends with the slogan: "To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil."

The British government accused Argentina of exploiting the Olympic Games, which will take place in London this year, for political ends.

In March, six Nobel Peace Prize laureates wrote a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to hold talks with Argentina on the future of the Falkland Islands.

The letter called on Cameron to "review the British government's position of refusing to dialogue on this matter."

The British government has repeatedly stated its position that the residents of the islands should be the ones to determine their fate.

The planned referendum seeks to do just that.

"We are holding this referendum not because we have any doubts about who we are and what future we want, but to show the world just how very certain we are about that," Short said.

CNN's Claudia Rebaza contributed to this report.

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