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Argentina's Atlantic blockade upsets Spain, United Kingdom

Dec. 7, 2011 at 2:22 PM   |   Comments

BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Argentina has upset old adversary Britain as well as Spain over its boarding of fishing fleets and blockade of shipping links with the British-ruled Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

A major source of British ire is the Argentinean military's reported harassment of vessels outside the Uruguayan port of Montevideo, a key link in the Falklands shipping traffic. Last week Argentineans targeted a Spanish fishing fleet, which in turn urged Madrid to intervene.

Amid post-election transition Spain produced a low-key response expressing concern over Argentine action but pledged to investigate the interceptions ordered by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The Spanish fishermen's representatives said Argentina's action threatened their livelihoods.

Last year, Fernandez issued a decree requiring ships sailing between the Falklands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands to obtain permission from Argentine authorities. Argentina said such permission was required because the maritime traffic passed waters within Argentine jurisdiction.

Initially Argentina targeted vessels licensed by the Falklands government then extended the restrictions to other shipping, including fishing fleets from the Pacific.

Argentina invaded the islands, a British Overseas Territory, in 1982 but was repulsed in a 74-day conflict that caused 1,000 deaths of Falklands civilians and military personnel from both sides.

The occupation attempt was among factors that led to the downfall of Argentina's military regime. After a return to civilian rule, Argentina resumed claims on the Falklands and intensified the campaign after the discovery of oil in the Falklands waters.

Argentina says British rule over the Falklands is a colonial anachronism. Britain argues Falklanders exercised self-determination and chose to stay with Britain.

Britain is also planning a 386,000-square-mile marine protection zone around the island of South Georgia, known for its penguins and whales, the Times newspaper in London reported. Britain is building a $400 million airport on St. Helena, the last exile home of defeated French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, which will make air travel to and from the Falklands easier than it is now.

Argentine actions have raised the diplomatic temperatures. Britain plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary next year of its victory over Argentina in all its overseas territories as an affirmation of its rule on the Falklands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament Britain's "Overseas Territories will remain British as long as the people of those territories want to maintain their special relationship with us and that the Union Jack flag will continue to fly the governors' residences."

He said Britain would increase assistance to all 14 of its overseas territories, which include Bermuda, Cayman Islands in the Caribbean and Gibraltar in Europe.

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