Gregory Katz and Raphael G. Satter
London — The Associated Press Published on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 12:29PM EST
Argentina's demand for direct control of shipping from the South American mainland to the Falkland Islands has raised fears about conflict over energy resources in the south Atlantic.
Britain triumphed when the old antagonists fought in 1982 for control of the sparsely populated islands. National pride was at stake, along with bruised feelings from the colonial era and the disputed loyalty of the Falklanders themselves.
This time, the confrontation is over something more tangible: Control of substantial oil and gas
British Foreign Office officials Wednesday rejected Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's announcement Tuesday that ships traveling from the South American mainland would need a license from Argentina to travel to the Falklands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas.
Britannia rules those waves, they said, stating that the Argentine policy would not apply in Falkland territorial waters.
Legislator Andrew Rosindell, secretary of the parliamentary committee dealing with the Falklands, said it would be dangerous to ignore Argentina's provocative stance.
“Any attempt by Argentina to claim any sort of rights of sovereignty over that region is something we should take very seriously,” he said. “I don't think we should appease Buenos Aires — we found out what happens last time.”
But he said fresh military conflict is unlikely because Argentina knows it cannot successfully challenge Britain, which keeps Royal Navy ships on patrol there.
“This is typical grandstanding, but they know the British are well prepared and this is a battle they cannot win.”
He said ship captains should ignore the new Argentine policy when they transit from international waters into the seas surrounding the Falklands, which he described as sovereign British waters.
Humphrey Maud, who served as Britain's first ambassador to Argentina after the Falklands conflict, said Argentina's announcement is a serious and worrying development that completely violates the agreement that led to a resumption of diplomatic relations after the war.
He said the Argentines may be angling for a slice of the south Atlantic territory's oil wealth — something he believes Britain would never accept.
“They have at their heart a very crude feeling that if there's oil there, they want a very large part of it,” he said, adding that any British concession to Argentine demands was extremely unlikely.
“We are absolutely convinced of our own right and sovereignty over the islands,” the recently retired diplomat said. “The islanders have an absolute right to conduct commercial relations as they see fit.”
Britain and Argentina have disputed sovereignty over the islands since the early 19th century, and negotiations over their status dragged on until early 1982, when Argentina's military dictatorship opted to take the territory back by force.
The Argentines invaded on April 2, sparking a brief war in which some 650 Argentine troops, more than 250 British personnel and three islanders were killed.
Argentine forces surrendered 10 weeks later, an event that led to the collapse of the country's unpopular military junta and the restoration of civilian rule in 1983. In Britain, the military triumph greatly boosted the popularity of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Britain and Argentina re-established full diplomatic ties in 1990, but Buenos Aires continues to claim the islands as its own even though it has made a commitment not to use force to press its claim.
Nicholas Winterton, director of the all-party Falklands group, said Argentina is trying to derail the development of the Falklands by blocking oil and gas development.
“All they are trying to do is impede the economic progress of the Falkland Islands, because of course the encouragement of hydrocarbon exploration in the area is an important part of achieving a sustainable future for the islands,” he said.
Several British oil
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