Old foes still as far apart as ever

By Colin Brown

STANLEY - Twenty-five years after the conflict between Britain and Argentina over the disputed Falkland Islands, British MPs have been told that the two sides are as far apart as ever.

Falkland Islanders yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the war by warning that calls for the "Malvinas" to be reclaimed are being heard again in Argentina.

The cost of maintaining British forces in the Falklands is £143 million ($392 million) a year but the British Government has made it clear it will not reopen discussions on the sovereignty of the islands, said Alan Huddle, the Governor of the Falklands.

As both sides sought to draw lessons from the battle over the islands occupied by British settlers 13,000km from home, there were clear signs that the wounds have not yet healed.

A briefing note to MPs by the House of Commons library says that the claims to the disputed islands are rising again in Argentina.

"Successive Argentinian governments since the mid-1980s have asserted that the Falkland Islands should be reclaimed by diplomatic means. More recently the Argentinian Government has adopted a more aggressive stance," said the report.

It quotes Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana saying the right to self-determination was not applicable to the Falkland Islands because the islanders were a "British population transplanted with the intention of setting up a colony".

Argentina is boycotting commemorations in June in London and in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, marking the anniversary of the end of the war. Argentina, which lost 640 troops in the war, will organise its own commemoration in Buenos Aires.

Relatives of the Argentinian soldiers killed in the Falklands War are being invited to hold a private memorial ceremony on the Islands later this year, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said.

Beckett said they were being offered the opportunity to travel to Darwin - a settlement in Lafonia on East Falkland - for a ceremony at the Argentine Military Cemetery.

"The resulting loss of life on both sides is a source of continuing regret," she said.

"The commemorative events this year, planned in the UK and on the islands, will be a fitting and respectful tribute to all those who fought in the 1982 conflict."

She added: "The UK remains keen to foster a constructive relationship with Argentina, and to promote practical co-operation both in the South Atlantic and on broader issues of international co-operation."

Lord Carrington, who resigned as Foreign Secretary over the failure to prevent the invasion by Argentina, said yesterday that Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been advised by military chiefs not to go to war. He said she showed great "bravery" in deciding to launch the task force of warships and warplanes to reclaim the islands.

The British victory in Port Stanley with the loss of 255 British troops led to the downfall of the military junta led by President General Leopoldo Galtieri, but Thatcher privately admitted that she would have been brought down if the assault had failed.

A band of Falklands volunteers who risked their lives to defend the islands from invasion gathered yesterday to relive their experiences 25 years on.

Around 30 of those who served with the Falkland Islands Defence Force on the night of April 1-2, 1982, when Argentinian troops invaded, marched through Stanley.

Major Peter Biggs, current commanding officer of the force, said: "Most of them really thought they were going out to die that night.

"They were informed there was a huge invasion force and asked to turn out. It is quite a special time for them."

But Eduardo Belgrano Rawson, an Argentine journalist, said: "It is an insoluble subject. I am sure that Argentina is never again going to have a military government and will never again try to invade by force of arms.

"But I feel that there has to be some form of living together developed because Argentina is very close and Britain is a long way away," Rawson said.

The Galtieri junta was emboldened after Britain withdrew HMS Endurance, a survey vessel, from the Falklands.

The briefing note to MPs shows the defence of the Falklands is still stretching the Ministry of Defence budget - a Chinook helicopter was shipped out last year because the Air Force was short of Chinooks in Afghanistan.

Nearly 1500 British military personnel are permanently deployed in the Falklands.

One of the most pressing issues is the removal of 18,000 land mines scattered during the war.

War in the South Atlantic

In March 1982, Argentine scrap metal workers landed at Leith Harbour, in South Georgia, and raised the Argentine flag. A fortnight later, Argentine troops invaded the Falklands Islands, triggering a 74-day conflict with Britain.

* April 1-2, 1982: Argentinian forces invade.

* May 2: Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano sunk outside the British exclusion zone with loss of 323 lives.

* May 4: HMS Sheffield hit by Exocet missile, killing 20.

* May 21: British forces land at San Carlos. HMS Ardent is sunk, killing 22.

* May 25: HMS Coventry sunk, killing 19, and container ship Atlantic Conveyor hit by Exocet missile, killing 12.

* May 28: 17 British soldiers killed at Goose Green.

* June 8: RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram bombed at Fitzroy, killing 51.

* June 13-14: British forces take approaches to Port Stanley.

* June 14: Argentinian General Menendez surrenders.

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