UK newspaper hits back over Argentinian claim to Falklands

On the way to Darwin on January 24, 2012 in Port Stanley, Falklands Islands

Story highlights

  • British newspaper says Argentinian claims to the Falkland Islands are unfounded
  • The Sun's open letter, saying "hands off" the islands, is printed in a Buenos Aires paper
  • It's a response to an open letter from Argentina's president in UK media claiming sovereignty
  • The British government says there won't be sovereignty talks unless islanders want them

A British newspaper waded into the argument between Britain and Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands on Friday, publishing an open letter in a Buenos Aires newspaper saying "hands off" the disputed territory.

The Sun's letter, printed in the Buenos Aires Herald, was a riposte to an open letter published in the British press Thursday in which Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called on the UK to hand back the islands, known in Argentina as Las Malvinas.

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Her open letter, addressed to British Prime Minister David Cameron and copied to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, accused Britain of blatant colonialism.

She wrote: "The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule.

"Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity."

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She cites a 1965 U.N. resolution inviting the two countries to negotiate a solution to the sovereignty dispute, and calls on the British to abide by the resolution.

The Sun's letter, addressed to Fernandez, rejects her assertions, saying: "Claims that 180 years ago Argentina was stripped of the Falkland Islands are unfounded.

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"No Argentinian civilian population was ever expelled. It was an Argentine garrison which had been sent to the islands to try to impose Argentine sovereignty over British sovereign territory.

"British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands dates back to 1765 -- before the Republica of Argentina even existed."

The islands have never been governed by Argentina or formed part of its territory, the newspaper states, adding: "Until the people of the Falkland Islands choose to become Argentinian, they remain resolutely British.

"In the name of our millions of readers, and to put it another way: 'HANDS OFF!' "

The Sun, Britain's best-selling tabloid and part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, said in a story on its own pages that the Herald "is an influential paper read by 50,000 people in the capital."

The islanders, who are due to hold a referendum on their political status this March, were also quick to dismiss the Argentinian position.

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"We are not a colony," said Barry Elsby, a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands. "Our relationship with the United Kingdom is by choice."

The British government swiftly rejected Fernandez's call for negotiations, saying the Falkland Islanders have chosen to be British.

In a statement Thursday, the British Foreign Office said the islanders remain free to choose their own futures and "have a right to self-determination as enshrined in the U.N. Charter. This is a fundamental right for all peoples."

The statement added: "There are three parties to this debate, not just two as Argentina likes to pretend. The islanders can't just be written out of history.

"As such, there can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falklands Islands unless and until such time as the islanders so wish."

Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 480 kilometers (298 miles) east of the tip of South America, the Falklands have long been coveted as a strategic shipping stopover and potential wellspring of natural resources.

The islands, which raise their own taxes but rely on the United Kingdom for defense and foreign policy, are one of 14 British overseas territories and have been under British rule since 1833.

The two countries went to war over the territory in 1982, when the then-Argentinian military government landed troops on the islands. Argentina put its death toll from the conflict at around 645. Britain's civil and military losses amounted to 255.

The latest exchange of views comes amid rising tension over the islands, which are home to about 3,000 people.