REPORTING FROM BUENOS AIRES AND BOGOTA -- Argentina reacted bitterly Tuesday evening to Britain’s announcement that it was sending the destroyer Dauntless to participate in “routine” naval exercises near the Falkland Islands as the April anniversary of the war the two countries fought over the islands approaches.
It had been reported earlier that Prince William, heir to the British throne and a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, would participate in the exercises near the British possessions beginning next month. His uncle, Prince Andrew, also a helicopter pilot, flew missions in the brief but violent 1982 war that left 650 Argentines and about 300 British servicemen dead.
Argentina “laments the royal heir arrives on national soil in the uniform of a conqueror and not with the wisdom of a statesman working in the service of peace and dialogue between nations,” a foreign ministry statement read.
Argentina has long claimed the islands, about 300 miles east of its Patagonia region. Since the 1982 war, it has asked the United Nations to mediate negotiations that would lead to its gaining possession. Britain has consistently refused, with Jeremy Browne, British foreign relations vice minister, saying recently that the sovereignty of the Falklands is “non-negotiable” and that London would take measures to “guarantee their security.”
Tension also has been rising because of plans unveiled by the British government to promote offshore oil and gas exploration around the islands.
Various commentators in Argentina described the announcement of the ship’s participation in naval exercises as a provocation coming at a sensitive time.
The harsh tone of the Argentine Foreign Relations Ministry’s statement left little doubt that the government feels the same way. Argentina “rejects the British attempt to militarize a conflict which the United Nations has said on numerous occasions should be resolved in bilateral negotiations,” the statement concluded.
-- Andres d’Alessandro and Chris Kraul
Photo: Britain's Prince William, seen in a recent photo, will deploy to the politically sensitive Falkland Islands for a naval exercise that has angered Argentina. Credit: John Stillwell / Associated Press.