Falkland Islands Referendum Starts As Residents Decide Between Britain And Argentina

Falkland Islanders go to the polls on Sunday to vote on whether they want to remain British amid increasing tensions with Argentina over the sovereignty of the territory.

The tiny community is expected to overwhelmingly back retaining its status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

Authorities in Port Stanley hope the result will send a clear message to Argentina as it ramps up its rhetoric over the islands it calls Las Malvinas, and outside observers are being brought in to monitor the referendum in order to prove it is free and fair.

Islanders will almost certainly back remaining British

But the poll, which runs Sunday and Monday, is unlikely to appease the Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner who is desperate to improve her popularity against a backdrop of economic decline.

In January, she wrote an open letter to David Cameron, urging the prime minister to abide by a 1960 UN resolution calling on members to "end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations".

Argentina has refused to give any commitment to respect the results of the referendum, insisting that it will negotiate only with the UK Government and not with those who it regards as "colonists".

A poll by YouGov for Sky News found only 15% of Argentinians believe islanders should have a say in their own future and a quarter still believe that the area will one day be governed from Buenos Aires.

Separate research by ComRes for ITV News found six in 10 British adults believed the UK should keep all options - including the possibility of military action - open when deciding how to respond to a threat of invasion, while just 16% disagreed and 24% did not know.

On a visit to London last month, Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman refused to meet representatives of the islands' legislative assembly, telling reporters that as far as Buenos Aires was concerned, Falkland Islanders "do not exist".

Timerman predicted that Argentina will secure sovereignty over the islands within 20 years.

But Foreign Secretary William Hague dismissed the claim as "fantasy" and accused the current Argentine government of turning away from a process of diplomatic dialogue towards "a pattern of bullying and intimidatory behaviour towards the Falkland Islands".

Argentina has been accused of seeking to isolate the islands by barring flights and ships from its ports and airports, as well as seeking to impose sanctions against companies trading in the islands.

Former First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord West told Murnaghan on Sky News: "At the moment there's no doubt that we are in a position to defend the Falkland Islands."

Falkland Islands UK Representative Sukey Cameron suggested the territory could become independent in the future.

She told the programme: "That may well happen in 50, 70, 100 years' time but now we are very happy with our relationship as it stands with the UK."

She added: "There are some people on the island who may vote 'no' but voting 'no' isn't necessarily voting yes to Argentina."