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Minister makes Falklands stopover

Relations between Britain and Argentina are set to come under further strain after it emerged a Government minister is visiting the Falklands.

David Willetts is expected to hold talks with military commanders, according to The Times.

The Conservative science minister, who is making a brief visit on the outward and return stints of a trip to the Antarctic, is also due to host a dinner with Governor Nigel Haywood and hold discussions on policy matters, including whether islands students should have to pay tuition fees, the newspaper said.

Mr Willetts insisted islanders had "made it very clear" they want to remain British.

He told The Times: "What matters is the right of self-determination of the people in the Falklands. They made it very clear they wish to remain British and this should be seen as part of Britain's historic links to the south Atlantic and the Antarctic."

A spokesman said the minister did not have any "official" engagements during his stopover and insisted it was a "transiting visit" to allow Mr Willetts to pick up a flight to the British Antarctic Survey in Rothera.

The minister is making a "long-planned" tour of the scientific study site, which is a key climate change research facility, officials added. But the stopover comes after months of escalating rhetoric between London and Buenos Aires.

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Cristina Kirchner have traded barbs prompting United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon to issue a statement expressing "concern about the increasingly strong exchanges".

Tempers flared after Britain deployed one of its most modern destroyers, HMS Dauntless, to the region, although it insisted the move was merely routine.

The Duke of Cambridge's arrival in the Falklands for a posting as an RAF search and rescue pilot further infuriated Buenos Aires. And there were protests after the website of Falklands newspaper the Penguin News ran a photo of Mrs Kirchner labelled "bitch".

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