Falkland islanders prepare for referendum

March 9, 2013 at 1:25 AM
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STANLEY, Falkland Islands, March 9 (UPI) -- The coming referendum in the Falkland Islands has lured the international news media and official election observers to the remote British overseas territory.

About 50 journalists were expected to arrive by plane from Chile Saturday while a British contingent was already in the Falklands, The Daily Telegraph reported. That includes Russian and Japanese TV crews.

Two days of voting begins Sunday. The 1,700 eligible voters will answer one question: "Do you wish the Falklands Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"

The islanders are expected to vote yes by an overwhelming margin.

The plane carrying the journalists will also bring observers from Mexico, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Juan Manuel Henao, deputy head of the Referendum International Observation Mission, said including observers from South America was a "conscious decision."

"The Falkland Islands are a Latin American issue and it is important for these observers to vouch for the process and draw their conclusion about what has gone on here," he said.

The Falklands group includes hundreds of islands, most of them uninhabited. About three-quarters of the population of less than 3,000 people live in the capital, Stanley.

Argentina and Britain have been disputing sovereignty for decades. The two countries fought a war over the Falklands, known to Argentina as the Malvinas, in 1982 and more recently President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has tried taking the issue to the United Nations, arguing that the British seized the islands illegally in 1833.

John Fowler, who works for the Penguin News, the Falklands newspaper, said islanders hope the referendum will show the issue is not just a two-way fight between Britain and Argentina.

"Who owns the Falklands? Well, we, the Falkland Islanders, own the Falklands, actually," he said. "We have a historical and mutually loyal relationship with Britain, but we are not part of the United Kingdom."

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