Islanders set to send poll message
Published 03/03/2013 | 05:26
Falkland Islanders will go to the polls next weekend for a referendum which the authorities in Port Stanley hope will send a clear message to Argentina that they wish to remain British.
The poll, on March 10 and 11, will ask the 2,563 islanders whether they want the south Atlantic archipelago to retain its status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.
There is little doubt that the answer will be an overwhelming "Yes", and the result will be used as a further justification for Britain's refusal to enter negotiations with Buenos Aires over the future sovereignty of the islands.
The government of the Falkland Islands has arranged for outside observers to monitor the referendum in order to prove it is free and fair, and has promised a second referendum on alternative arrangements if islanders vote "No".
However, 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".
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".
Mr Timerman predicted that Argentina will secure sovereignty over the islands it knows as Las Malvinas within 20 years.
But Foreign Secretary William Hague dismissed the claim as "fantasy" and accused the current Argentine government, led by president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, of turning away from a process of diplomatic dialogue towards "a pattern of bullying and intimidatory behaviour towards the Falkland Islands".
Ms Kirchner has reignited the dispute, 30 years after the 1982 war, by making increasingly strident demands for Argentine sovereignty. 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".
Meanwhile, 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.