UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Argentina’s president took her country’s claim to the Falkland Islands to the United Nations on Thursday, challenging Britain in a highly emotional speech to “act more intelligently” and sit down to talk about the future of the tiny archipelago.
President Cristina Fernandez chose to appear at the annual meeting of the little-known U.N. Decolonization Committee on the 30th anniversary of Britain’s ouster of an Argentine invasion force from the Falklands, using the occasion to reiterate Argentina’s opposition to any more wars and to criticize the British prime minister’s decision to mark the day by flying the Falklands flag over his official 10 Downing Street residence.
“I felt shame from far away for them because wars are not to be celebrated or commemorated,” she said, pointing to the hundreds of deaths in the 74-day conflict over the islands, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas.
While accusing Britain of abusing its power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, lying about the islands’ history and acting as “a bully,” Fernandez also said she came to the U.N. “without any rancor.”
“We’re not asking for much,” she said in the first-ever appearance at the committee by a head of state. “We’re just asking to talk. … We’re not asking anyone to say `yes’ the Malvinas are Argentina’s.”
Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands since 1833. Britain disputes Argentina’s claim saying it ignores the wishes of the island’s 3,000 residents who have expressed a desire to remain British. Argentina maintains that the residents do not have the unilateral right to decide what they want the islands to be.
While Fernandez swept into the conference room with a delegation of more than 90 Argentines including ministers and political opponents, the Falklands was represented by the two lawmakers and six young islanders. When Fernandez was introduced, she was applauded and after her lengthy speech she received sustained applause. After the Falklands representatives spoke, there was the usual silence.
Falklands legislator Roger Edwards accused Argentina of seeking to take away the rights of the islanders and subject them to “colonialism.”
“Today all that we ask for is the right to determine our own future without the bullying tactics of a neighboring country,” he said.
Edwards said he was certain a referendum next year will show decisively that the Falkland Islanders want to maintain their links with Britain.
Fellow legislator Mike Summers said Argentina’s claims to the Falklands are based “on spurious and dubious historical `facts’ and interpretations” and accused “a very much larger, aggressive and uncaring neighbor” of trying to break international laws and subvert human rights “so long as it can get our land.”
But Argentine Marcelo Luis Vernet told the committee his great-great grandmother arrived in the Falklands in 1829 and he read excerpts from her diary. He accused Britain of being “a usurper” that wrenched the islands from their natural “American continent identity.”
Summers held up a letter from the Falkland Islands government inviting the Argentine government “to sit down and listen to the views of the people of the Falkland Islands and enter into a dialogue designed to find ways to cooperate in matters of mutual interest.”
He asked the Argentine delegation to invite him to deliver the invitation to Fernandez in person before the end of the session.
There was no invitation and after the session ended Summer and others pursued Fernandez, surrounded by many Argentines and security guards, through a long corridor trying to hand over the letter. She didn’t accept it, but another member of her delegation did, a British diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, asked about the letter, told reporters that Argentina wants state-to-state negotiations with Britain.
Britain has refused Argentina’s repeated calls to negotiate the islands’ sovereignty, saying it’s up to the islanders to decide.
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, the 24-member Decolonization Committee adopted by consensus a similar resolution to the ones it has approved for many years calling on Britain and Argentina to negotiate.
After the 1982 war, the islands became a self-governing British overseas territory, with a directly elected legislative assembly that oversees the local government. Islanders still have British passports and benefit from a sizeable British defense force. While a visiting British governor still has veto power over local decisions, islanders say he’s never used it.
Britain did not speak at the committee meeting, but afterward British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters “it is disappointing that the level of rhetoric from the Argentinean government has increased in recent months and we ascribe that frankly to a change in politics in Argentina rather than any other change that’s happened.”
Lyall Grant recalled that on the 20th anniversary of the Falklands War there were a lot of joint commemorative events honoring the 649 Argentines, 255 British soldiers, and three islanders who died in the war and it was done “in a very statesman-like way.”
“If one compares … it with the rhetoric that we’ve seen after the 30 years, I think it’s very disappointing,” he said.
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