Argentina fury at UK bid for Falkland seas

Argentina fury at UK bid for Falkland seas

By Oliver Balch in Buenos Aires and Colin Freeman
The Telegraph

The Falkland Islands have been ruled by Britain since 1833 and are part of what remains of the British Empire. Britain still rules the islands as there is no desire for the Falklanders for independence or to be ruled by Argentina - though try telling that to the Argies.

Argentina has reacted furiously to plans by Britain to lay claim to vast new tracts of potentially oil and gas-rich territories in the seas off the Falklands.

In a move likely to add new heat to the long-running diplomatic dispute, British officials are preparing to submit a bid to the United Nations to prove that thousands of extra square miles of the surrounding ocean floor are geographically part of the islands.

The claim follows a new approach in international law which holds that a nation's legitimately-held territory can extend up to 350 miles from its coast, if it can verify that it is part of the shoreline's underlying continental shelf.

In the case of the Falklands, that could extend the zone of British exploration rights on the seabed well beyond its existing 200-mile boundary, bringing it into direct conflict with Argentinian claims the other way.

Last night, after details of the legal submission were revealed by British government lawyers, the Argentinian government said it would fight the application vigorously.

Ruperto Godoy, the Argentinian State deputy who is president of a parliamentary group set up to lobby on his government's continued claim to sovereignty over the islands, told The Sunday Telegraph: "We are completely opposed to this proposition of the UK government to extend its territories. We want to restart dialogue about the Falklands, but the British are ignoring this position.

"It is correct that this area has a high potential for energy resource exploration, but we will not stop from our position of reclaiming our islands."

Britain's application is being filed to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, that has asked for all such claims to be submitted for consideration by May 2009. Downing Street is also putting in bids for territories around Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic, and Rockall, a tiny pinnacle more than 200 miles west of the Hebrides.

The bid on the Falklands has been prompted by British interest in the possibility of huge oil, gas and mineral deposits thought to lie deep beneath the South Atlantic.

Last night the Foreign Office insisted there was no certainty that the bid, being prepared by the UK Hydrographic Office, would go ahead.

"We are considering the possibility of making a submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, but no firm decision has been taken yet," said a spokesman. However, Mike Summers, spokesman for the Falkland Islands Legislative Council, told The Sunday Telegraph that the studies had been under way for several years.

"There is a great number of countries around the world who are doing and have been preparing the geological information here for some time, maybe three or four years," he said. "The Argentines will then make a claim in parallel, although I am not sure that they necessarily have the relevant geological information at the moment."

He added, though, that the UN commission would not issue any final binding decision on the matter as long as the ownership of the Falklands was in dispute.

"The paperwork has to be put to the UN, as there is a deadline for applications on this matter. But it will then sit on a shelf until there is some movement on the sovereignty issue, and there is no likelihood of that at present."

Nonetheless, Argentina, whose demands for talks on sovereignty have been turned down over the years, views the mere filing of the application as a provocative act.

Mr Godoy said he believed it was "no coincidence" that details of the claim had become public in Britain just days ahead of a speech by Argentina's president, Nestor Kirchner, at the UN in New York.

"This shows a lack of understanding of the Argentine position, and if the British do not change their approach we shall have to interpret it as aggression."
Talk to the Danes and the Russians.

Or better yet, view it as an opportunity to share but leave the Falklanders alone.

I am reminded of that most scary of children's stories