Argentina jail threats 'shameful'

Thurrock Gazette: Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire says the UK is ready to hold talks over issues concerning the Falkland Islands Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire says the UK is ready to hold talks over issues concerning the Falkland Islands

Argentina's efforts to bypass the stated desire of Falkland Islanders to remain British are "doomed to failure", a Foreign Office Minister declared as he prepared to visit the territory.

Hugo Swire criticised "shameful" threats of jail terms and heavy fines for firms seeking to explore for oil exploration off the coast of the South Atlantic islands.

Britain was ready to hold talks over practical issues concerning the region, he indicated on the eve of his arrival, but only if the Falkland government was at the negotiating table.

But he criticsed "shameful" attempts by Argentina to deter oil exploration in Falklands waters through a new law imposing heavy jail sentences and fines.

His remarks to the Penguin News website were given a hostile reception by Buenos Aires, which claims sovereignty over what it calls Las Malvinas.

In a fresh bout of diplomatic sniping, the head of a task force set up by Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to deal with the issue accused him of "colonial high-handedness".

Britain's real interest in the region was to "pillage the wealth of hydrocarbons, minerals, fish stocks, water and biodiversity that belong to 40 million Argentines", Daniel Filmus said.

Last year, islanders voted by 1,513 to three in favour of remaining British in a referendum and Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to defend their decision in the face of Argentine threats.

Mr Swire said: "If the Government of Argentina believes that hostile rhetoric and threats against the livelihoods of the Falkland Islands people will pressure the UK into negotiating the sovereignty of the Falklands - above the heads of the people whose home it is then it is sorely mistaken.

"The British Government will abide by our responsibilities under the UN Charter to respect your right of self determination. Argentina may continue to choose to ignore the views of the Falkland Islanders, but it is a policy doomed to failure."

The prospect of oil production had taken the islands to " the brink of great change", he said.

"I do not pretend that significant challenges do not lie ahead. They do, and these developments will need to be managed carefully. Some difficult decisions will need to be taken. In all of this, though, we will of course continue to stand alongside you.

In a statement issued by the Argentine embassy in London, Mr Filmus said: " Hugo Swire invited Argentina to dialogue over the region's natural resources, thus revealing the United Kingdom's main objective in the South Atlantic: to pillage the wealth of hydrocarbons, minerals, fish stocks, water and biodiversity that belong to 40 million Argentines and are part of Latin America.

"Herein lies the reason for having established a disproportionate military presence on the Malvinas Islands.

"As Argentines we shall continue to use all legal and diplomatic means available to defend our riches."

He added: "What human history has shown is that what is doomed to failure is not the struggle of peoples to defend their territorial integrity, but colonial high-handedness.

"Suffice to compare the map of Britain's early-20th century colonial possessions obtained by dint of slavery and weaponry, with today's map where a mere 17 colonies remain, ten of which are ruled by the United Kingdom."

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