LATIN AMERICA

Falklands to hold sovereignty referendum

Tensions between Argentina and United Kingdom at highest since 1982 war Announcement came on eve of of Argentinean president's visit to New York

Madrid -
Chairman of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly Gavin Short (c).
Chairman of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly Gavin Short (c).ENRIQUE MARCARIAN (REUTERS)

The Falklands Islands government announced Tuesday that it will hold a referendum early next year "to convey a strong message to the outside world" that its residents want to remain a self-governing British territory.

The announcement by Gavin Short, chairman of the legislative assembly, was posted on the government's website shortly after he met in Port Stanley with British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State Jeremy Browne. It also came on the eve of Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's visit to New York, where she will attend the UN Special Committee on Decolonization meeting about the islands scheduled for Thursday - the 30th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War.

Tensions between Argentina and Britain are at their highest over the South Atlantic archipelago since the two countries fought a brief but bloody war in 1982. Fernández de Kirchner has proposed an economic blockade of the Falklands, a suggestion supported by some leftist South American leaders.

No ties to Argentina

"We certainly have no desire to be ruled by the government in Buenos Aires, a fact that is immediately obvious to anyone who has visited the islands and heard our views," Short wrote in the statement. "But we are aware that not everyone is able to come to these beautiful islands and to see this reality for themselves. And the Argentinean Government deploys misleading rhetoric that wrongly implies that we have no strong views or even that we are being held hostage by the UK military. This is simply absurd."

There was no immediate reaction from the government in Buenos Aires. In London, Prime Minister David Cameron said that he would "respect and defend" the result of next year's vote.

"I have always said it is up to the Falkland islanders themselves to choose whether they want to be British and that the world should listen to their views," he said.

Short said that independent international observers would be invited to observe the vote and verify the results. "We are holding this referendum not because we have any doubts about who we are and what future we want, but to show the world just how very certain we are about that."

A poll taken in the mid-1980s showed that 94 percent of the 3,000 inhabitants said they wished to remain British.

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