Argentina resurrects claim to Falklands 25 years after war

TWENTY-FIVE years after hostilities ceased, Argentina is opening a new front in the Falklands War.

Rather than jets and mortar rounds, however, this salvo involves diplomats appealing for help at the United Nations and the government reasserting long-standing claims to the Falkland Islands.

Britain, however, maintains its hold on the island, which Argentina invaded 25 years ago this Monday.

Many Argentines — especially the left-wing power base of President Nestor Kirchner — see the war as a huge mistake pursued by the nation’s discredited military dictators. But Argentines still universally call the Falklands — known in South America as the Malvinas — as their own. And in this election year, Mr Kirchner appears poised to gain support by pushing hard against Britain’s firm refusal to negotiate on the islands’ fate.

“Argentina has never consented to the UK’s claim of rights to the territory,” Eduardo Airaldi, Kirchner’s top official in charge of the South Atlantic region, said as he described Kirchner’s position. Kirchner’s predecessors didn’t do as much to press Argentina’s claims to the islands. Former president Carlos Menem restored diplomatic ties with Britain in 1990 after agreeing to shelve the sovereignty question.

In contrast, Mr Kirchner declared the recovery of the archipelago to be “a permanent and irrevocable objective of the Argentine people”. His government expressed irritation when Britain protested the presence of an Argentine ship near the islands and challenged changes to fishing rights made by Falklands administrators. In January, he sent his foreign minister to lobby UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to support new sovereignty talks.

Just before the Argentine invasion on April 2, 1982, diplomats from both countries talked about an eventual Hong Kong-like hand- over of the colony occupied by Britain since 1833, despite the idea’s unpopularity in London and among the 3,000 or so British-descended residents of the island.

But the invasion changed all that. Britain mobilised 3,000 troops and its artillery pounded the Argentine draftees. Humbled by the onslaught, Argentina surrendered on June 14, after 649 Argentine and 272 British troops were killed.

The Falklands dispute remains an open wound. Many public schools, streets, small businesses and taxi stands are named after the Malvinas. Billboards reading ‘The Malvinas are ours’ are a common sight.

The greatest legacy of the 74-day war for Argentines is that the defeat hastened the fall of the dictatorship a year later in 1983, said Riordan Roett, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

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