Falkland Islands: Argentina Behaving In A 'Domineering' Way, Says Jeremy Browne

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JEREMY BROWNE
Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne has accused Argentina of trying to 'domineer' the South Atlantic | PA

A Foreign Office minister has accused Argentina of "domineering" behaviour ahead of an official visit to mark the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands.

Lib Dem minister Jeremy Browne described being disappointed at the Argentinean government amid heightened tensions over the disputed islands.

His comments came after politicians in Buenos Aires said they would be launching criminal proceedings against UK oil firms operating off the Falkland's coastline.

But Browne described the move as another attempt to try and hinder the economic development of the remote group of islands in the South Atlantic.

Speaking days before he was due to visit the country, Browne said: "Sometimes there is a narrative from Argentina - and the decolonisation committee is prompted by that narrative - that here is Britain, this big, global power, and poor Argentina, that is going to the decolonisation committee at the UN to try and have their voice heard, well that is the Argentinean narrative.

"Let me put forward what I think is a much more accurate, contemporary narrative, which is that there is a G20 country, at the top table of world affairs, one would imagine keen to be responsible on the world stage, with a population of about 40 million people, seeking to put an economic blockade in place which will, in tangible terms the ambition of that is, to impoverish an isolated community with about 3,000 people.

"Which party in this arrangement are behaving in a domineering way and who are the vulnerable population who are having to make their way in the world despite a much more powerful country going out of their way to make that harder for them?

"I think that it's pretty clear cut."

Prime Minister David Cameron and Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner have traded barbs in the lead-up to the 30th anniversary of the conflict.

Diplomatic sources said they were expecting a "difficult" few months as key milestones in the 1982 conflict were passed.

The discovery of potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves around the Falklands - which Argentina call Las Malvinas - has further inflamed matters.

Argentina announced it was taking steps to sue five British firms - Desire Petroleum, Falkland Oil and Gas, Rockhopper Exploration, Borders and Southern Petroleum, and Argos Resources - claiming the firms were engaged in "illegal and clandestine activities" by drilling around the islands.

In March, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office dismissed the threats to take legal action as "wholly counter-productive".

Browne today described the move as Argentina's latest attempt to damage the economic livelihoods of the islands.

"It is part of trying to frustrate the economic development of the Falkland Islands," he told reporters.

"I think that is serious, if any country - particularly a powerful G20 country like Argentina - that is seeking to make the people in its vicinity, especially in more vulnerable, smaller populations, more isolated places, poorer than they otherwise would be, then I think that is reasonable cause for concern.

"But I don't get any sense that what Argentina is doing will impede oil exploration.

"There are enough companies that are interested in the possibilities that exist, that they can operate even with the restrictions that Argentina have put in place."

Argentina has also accused the UK of "militarising" the dispute by reportedly sending a submarine carrying nuclear weapons to the South Atlantic, something that Britain has not confirmed.

Buenos Aires also objected to the Duke of Cambridge's posting to the Falklands as an RAF rescue helicopter pilot and the deployment to the region of one of the Royal Navy's most modern destroyers, HMS Dauntless.

Meanwhile, Falklanders and veterans of the 1982 war are remembering the parts they played in the bloody 74-day conflict that claimed the lives of 255 British servicemen, 655 Argentines and three islanders.

June 14 marks exactly 30 years since the liberation of the Falkland Islands.

The British Government is not organising its own official commemorations this year because it is Whitehall policy to use public money only for 25th, 50th, 60th and 100th anniversaries.

But Browne will travel to the Island to attend the annual Liberation Day service on June 14.

There will also be a small ceremony at the Falklands War memorial in London's St Paul's Cathedral in June, and a service at the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne College, Berkshire, on June 17.

The Falklands, a rocky archipelago in the South Atlantic half the size of Wales, are 7,780 miles from the UK and 1,140 miles from Buenos Aires.

Argentina established a settlement on the islands in 1826, but they have been under British control since 1833 - apart from during the 74 days of the occupation in 1982.