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Islanders 'disappointed' by refusal

Falkland islanders said they were "disappointed but hardly surprised" after the foreign minister of Argentina refused to meet them for talks.

The war of words between the two sides continued as Hector Timerman admitted he had not attended a meeting with Foreign Secretary William Hague because the islanders were present.

Visiting London, Mr Timerman told reporters at the Argentine ambassador's residence that as far as Buenos Aires was concerned, Falkland islanders "do not exist".

He also told MPs that Buenos Aires would not recognise the result of a referendum next month on whether they wished to remain part of the British overseas territories.

He said in a newspaper interview that the islands would be under Argentine control within 20 years and denounced the British as "fanatics".

Jan Cheek, representing the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, said the Argentine government was "deeply worried about our referendum" and criticised Mr Timerman's decision not to talk to them.

She said: "Sadly, there was an empty chair in the room, as the Argentine foreign minister declined to attend. We are disappointed, but hardly surprised.

"Argentina prefers to disregard our existence, rather than engage constructively with the people who have lived on the Falkland Islands for so many generations.

Mr Hague said it was a "shame" the Argentine foreign minister had not attended the meeting and pledged the British Government's full support for the referendum.

He said: "As I have said before there is no way such a conversation could have taken place without members of the Falkland Islands Government being present, especially given the current Argentine government's behaviour towards the islanders. It is, and must always be, for them to decide their own future." & Commonwealth Office)

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