President Leopoldo Galtieri said today that Argentina was continuing to hold off British invasion forces on the Falkland Islands, but called for a cease-fire to "pacify emotion and end the hostility."
As the military junta maintained a rigorous silence about reports of expanding British military control on the islands, Galtieri told reporters this afternoon that "the battles continue."
The Army commander in chief, speaking publicly for the first time in six days, acknowledged that British forces had "been able to set foot in the zone of San Carlos," at the northwest end of East Falkland Island. He added, however, that Britain had suffered an "enormous" and "regrettable" loss of materiel and lives.
"It is going to be very difficult for the enemy to make up for the losses it has suffered," Galtieri said.
Military officials in the capital refused to answer questions today about activities of the Air Force, which yesterday claimed to have scored hits on eight British ships while losing six planes.
British military reports claimed that 16 Argentine warplanes and four helicopters had been shot down and that an Argentine patrol boat had been damaged.
"A Pucara an Argentine-made plane is bombing Big Ben," was the angry answer of one Air Force official when asked why there had been no reports of raids by Argentine planes.
Air Force commander Basilio Lami Dozo met privately with Galtieri this morning, and Galtieri took care this afternoon to "especially" praise "the pages of glory that the Argentine Air Force is writing."
Unofficial military accounts and reports by the Argentine state news agency Telam said that Argentine forces had isolated approximately 600 invading British troops in a desolate area about 30 miles from the Argentine garrison at Darwin. But the military's joint chiefs of staff, labeled by the ruling junta as the only trustworthy source of information, issued only one communique during the day, saying that "the combat front is stable and the situation is under the control of Argentine forces."
The communique said Argentine troops "continued fighting" early this morning around San Carlos, where the British forces landed yesterday, but made no mention of activity by Argentine Air Force planes based on the mainland, which have been considered the key to checking a British takeover of the islands.
Despite its losses, the Argentine Air Force and the Navy are believed to retain more than 60 American-made A4 Skyhawks and more than 30 French- or Israeli-made Mirages, in addition to French-made Super Etendard fighter-bombers and a variety of smaller or older aircraft.
Galtieri said that Argentine forces were ready to continue fighting, but that a variety of peace initiatives had been proposed by third countries. He called on "the sensitivity" of the British government to agree to peace. Argentina maintains "its location and spirit to negotiate without renouncing the sacred interest of the nation," Galtieri said.
"There are various initiatives by friendly countries that are trying to intervene between the parties looking for points of agreement that would permit the end of hostility," Galtieri said.
Government officials said that Galtieri spoke by telephone today with Colombian President Julio Cesar Turbay and Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde Terry and has accepted "in principle" a new peace plan offered by Peru.
One Foreign Ministry official said "90 percent of the diplomatic focus" by Argentina was on the United Nations Security Council, where Argentina hoped for a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire that would force at least a formal veto by Britain or the United States.
Galtieri seemed to see little prospect of British agreement to an immediate settlement, saying that Britain did not want to negotiate. "The blood that is continuing to be spilled is the sole responsibility of Mrs. Thatcher," Galtieri said.
Buenos Aires remained quiet today as Argentine media ignored all reports from abroad that indicated British successes. Widespread reports said that the British invading force numbered only in the hundreds and was badly isolated, and that Argentine Army forces were on the way to driving the British into the ocean.
A communique issued this evening in Buenos Aires said that British Sea Harrier planes had attempted to bomb Darwin today, and that one of the attacking Harriers had been shot down by Argentine antiaircraft guns.
Despite the calm in the capital, there were few open signs of support for Galtieri's government. Political leaders remained largely silent during the day, and unions that have called mass rallies after past battles made no move to organize demonstrations today.
A column in the morning newspaper La Nacion by Alvaro Alsogaray, a respected conservative economist and politician, suggested that Argentina should have taken advantage of Britain's willingness during negotiations at the United Nations last week to agree to a temporary U.N. administration in the islands while negotiations over sovereignty continued.
"If that is the case," Alsogaray wrote, "many of us who have backed what has been done without reservation, not knowing in great measure what was being discussed, will have to review our position."
Until now, most Argentine political figures have backed strongly the military's tough position in negotiations with Britain and have supported Galtieri's willingness to fight a costly military battle for the islands.
At the same time, political leaders have called on the government to lift quickly the still outstanding bans on political activity and actively include civilian party leaders in policy-making on the confrontation with Britain.
This week, activist sectors of the Radical Party, a middle-class group considered in popular support a distant second to the populist Peronist movement, also have attempted to promote a "government of national salvation," headed by Radical former president Arturo Illia, to take over from Galtieri after a settlement with Britain is reached.