Correction to This Article
A Jan. 8 article about a dispute over the Falkland Islands incorrectly said that Argentine President Nestor Kirchner in 2003 banned charter flights to the islands, known by Argentines as the Malvinas. Kirchner rejected a request to allow more charter flights from Chile to fly through Argentine airspace on their way to the islands. Currently one commercial flight per month originating in Chile stops in Rio Gallegos, Argentina, before continuing to the islands.

Falkland Islands An Unsettled Issue 25 Years After War

Ramon De Leon, a veteran of the 1982 war over islands that Argentines call the Malvinas, stands at a monument in Buenos Aires dedicated to fallen soldiers.
Ramon De Leon, a veteran of the 1982 war over islands that Argentines call the Malvinas, stands at a monument in Buenos Aires dedicated to fallen soldiers. (By Natacha Pisarenko -- Associated Press)

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By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 8, 2007

BUENOS AIRES -- As they organize separate 25th anniversary ceremonies to remember their war over the Falkland Islands, Argentine and British officials have found that remembering is the easy part.

Resolving, however, is a much trickier proposition.

The windblown archipelago is once again claiming headlines here, climbing back near the top of Argentina's international agenda a quarter-century after its military surrendered the territory to Britain.

Last week Argentina aimed yet another rhetorical dart at Britain, publicly reasserting its claim to islands it says were stolen by the English in 1833. The British should be getting the message by now: President Nestor Kirchner's government in the past year has issued official complaints concerning rights to the islands at a rate of more than one per month.

Meanwhile, Argentina's legislature has convened a committee dedicated to bolstering its claim over the islands, which sit about 350 miles off its coast and where sheep outnumber people by about 220 to 1. The Argentine government has pushed for, and has received, attention from the United Nations, which drafted a committee resolution last year recommending negotiations. Some political leaders in the region, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, have also publicly rallied around the cause.

"Until the United Kingdom gives the islands back to Argentina, we have a moral obligation as Argentines to work toward their recuperation," said Santiago Tettamanzi, 69, a former merchant marine who plans to participate in a ceremony in April commemorating the war. "We never lost our rights to sovereignty. Getting them back is a national cause."

Patriotism is stirred quickly when people here talk about the islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas. That sentiment is not lost on the nation's political strategists. Many historians say Argentina's military dictatorship started the war 25 years ago in a desperate effort to save itself; the government was buckling under heavy public opposition, and it clutched at the most convenient unifying national cause it could find. On April 2, 1982, the military launched attacks from the port city of Rio Gallegos to begin the doomed invasion.

Over the following 73 days, more than 250 Britons and about 650 Argentines were killed as Britain regained control. The two countries eventually restored diplomatic relations in 1990.

Kirchner grew up in Rio Gallegos, and like the overwhelming majority of its residents, he has always opposed British claims to the islands as a matter of principle. But with presidential elections set for later this year, campaign politics might also play a role in the hard-line stance, analysts say.

"The recuperation of the Malvinas must be a national objective, and through peaceful dialogue we must recover them," Kirchner said at a rally last year. "That doesn't mean we will live with bowed heads, but instead will confidently defend that which is ours."

British officials say they won't hold negotiations until the islands' residents ask for them. Prime Minister Tony Blair two weeks ago assured islanders that Britain would continue to defend their right to decide the islands' future.

"I want to assure you that the British government's determination to protect this right is as strong today as it was 25 years ago," Blair said during his Christmas Day address.


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