25th anniversary of the Falklands War: On 2nd April 1982, Argentina received worldwide condemnation when it invaded the Falkland Islands.
Beckett insults Britain's Falkland dead
By BENEDICT BROGAN, MATTHEW HICKLEY and REBECCA CAMBER
2nd April 2007
Under fire: Margaret Beckett faces fierce criticism
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has outraged Falklands veterans by expressing 'continuing regret' over both Argentinian and British casualties during the 1982 war.
They accused her of insulting the memory of 255 fallen comrades by putting their deaths on a par with those among the invaders of the islands.
The Foreign Secretary was also accused of showing dangerous weakness in the face of resurgent nationalism in Argentina, which is stepping up its efforts to reclaim the islands.
Veterans were furious that her statement marking today's 25th anniversary of the Argentine invasion did not mention the heroism of the UK forces who liberated the islands 74 days later, after Margaret Thatcher sent a task force.
Dr Rick Jolly, a Royal Navy surgeon commander who won an OBE for treating hundreds of wounded men in a field hospital, called the statement 'appalling'.
He said: "I also regret the loss of life but what I don't regret was that we were a liberating force. We should be very proud of what we did."
Heroic campaign: Royal Marine Commandos fly the Union Flag as they advance towards Argentine-occupied Port Stanley in June 1982
Tory defence spokesman Gerald Howarth, said: "It is Mrs Beckett's apparent even-handedness between tyranny and freedom that is unacceptable. This statement is weak.
"Yes, loss of life is regrettable, and 255 British servicemen laid down their lives to protect sovereign British territory. That must be uppermost in our minds.'
The Government had already been criticised for appearing uncertain about how to commemorate the Falklands victory, which was the high point of Baroness Thatcher's first term and contributed to Labour's crushing defeat a year later.
It initially had no plans to send a minister to ceremonies in Port Stanley, the Falklands capital, but has since dispatched a junior defence minister.
Mrs Beckett was already under fire about the deadlock with Iran over the British personnel captured in the Gulf.
And last week a Commons committee said she should have been sacked from her last post, as Environment Secretary, over a farm payments 'catastrophe' which pushed thousands of farmers to the brink of bankruptcy and will cost taxpayers £500million.
Her Falklands statement stressed the efforts to arrange a joint commemoration of the war, in which 652 Argentines and three islanders also died.
Argentina rejected the Government's offer of a service in London but has accepted the chance to send bereaved families to the Falklands for a private service later this year.
Mrs Beckett said today "marks the 25th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands. The resulting loss of life on both sides is a source of continuing regret.
"The commemorative events this year will be a fitting and respectful tribute to all those who fought in the 1982 conflict.
"The UK remains keen to foster a constructive relationship with Argentina, and to promote practical cooperation both in the South Atlantic and on broader issues."
She added: "The principles of freedom, democracy and selfdetermination remain as important to us today as they did in 1982.
"The Falkland Islands today are dynamic and forward-looking. The islanders have actively pursued efforts to diversify the economy, including through the development of the fishing industry and tourism, and to safeguard the rich and varied environment of the Islands.
"I congratulate them on the achievements of the past 25 years, and wish them every success for the future."
Derek Cole, 50, a Petty Officer on HMS Intrepid and now chief executive of the Falklands Veteran Foundation, said: "Some veterans will feel insulted by this. Nobody in Government has thought about talking to the veterans. Those who I've spoken too all feel the same about it."
"The Argentinians were the aggressors. An apology at this time will not get the veterans warming to the government. We lost a lot of lives."
Denzill Connick, 50, from Blackwood, who served in the Parachute Regiment, said: "Margaret Beckett shouldn't be making an apology, it was the Argentinians who started the conflict when they invaded.
"Sacrifices were made but it was a just war. We won the Falklands back and Argentina benefited because they returned to a democratic society."
Former Welsh Guardsman Simon Weston, who suffered horrific injuries when a bomb exploded on the troopship Sir Galahad, called Mrs Beckett's words 'mealy-mouthed' and 'disappointing'.
He added: "The Argentine Government is really threatening the islands at the moment yet Margaret Beckett is doing nothing to dissuade that."
Hero: Welsh Guardsman Simon Weston suffered horrific facial burns when the troopship Sir Galahad was bombed.
Former Para Kevin Ormond who now lives in the Falklands with his wife Tina, said: "She is playing into the Argentine Government's hand. For those families of the British lads that never came back, this will be a hurtful remark."
Les Hayhoe, 50, of the Falklands Veteran Foundation, demanded: "Did we apologise for World War Two? People who fought in the conflict should have been given more recognition but now it's just an afterthought."
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is on his way to visit the Falklands, expressed surprise at the tone of the statement and praised the British military effort.
He said: "We must remember on this important anniversary that the Falklands war was the result of an unprovoked act of aggression.
"It was the heroism of the gallant British armed services that ensured the right to self-determination of the Falkland islanders and the maintenance of international law."
Former Tory Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said the statement was 'wimpish'. He said: "When you use language like that it implies equivalence, the idea of an unfortunate conflict for which both sides were to blame."
The Argentine invasion was a desperate bid by its ruling military junta to regain popularity at home by seizing the islands, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas but have been British since 1833. They gambled that Britain would be too weak to react.
Their troops quickly overpowered the small British garrison of Royal Marines, but within hours Margaret Thatcher's cabinet decided to send a task force 8,000 miles to recapture the islands.
By the time the first British troops went ashore at San Carlos seven weeks later a fierce battle for control of the seas had cost hundreds of lives.
Warships were sunk on both sides including the Royal Navy frigate HMS Sheffield, and the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano.
British troops faced three weeks of bitter fighting on land, but scored hard-won victories at Goose Green and in the hills dominating the approaches to Port Stanley.
Argentine forces surrendered on June 14, 1982.
Last edited by Blackleaf; Apr 2nd, 2007 at 07:41 AM..