Argentina's military leadership and its capital city waited today under heavy gray skies for a final British offensive against Argentine troops on the Falkland Islands and an expected bitter end to Argentina's two-month old occupation.
In an apparent attempt to bring the nation's media under control as the final battle for the Falklands approached, the government ordered a three-day suspension tonight of Argentina's leading private news service, Noticias Argentinas, and a newspaper in the southern port of Comodoro Rivadavia. It was the first time the government has acted against any Argentine news outlet under censorship guidelines issued more than a month ago.
"I think it is a warning punishment," said a news agency official, who asked not to be identified.
The military command reported that its planes bombed British positions around Mount Kent and "carried out tasks of exploration and reconnaisance" today. "It is worth noting that there was no opposition or air activity by the enemy during the day," the command said.
Government officials have openly admitted in the past week that Argentina may lose the battle for its last stronghold on the long-coveted territory, Stanley. But officials here maintained today that they preferred a bitter fight over the islands to accepting Britain's strong demands for a unilateral Argentine troop withdrawal.
Air Force Commander in Chief Basilio Lami Dozo said earlier this week that Stanley "is the most important bastion. But it is not the last bastion." As the outbreak of the offensive seemed to grow imminent, Argentine officials have said that they will continue fighting even if Stanley is lost.
The military command did not officially respond today to reports that Soviet technicians were helping Argentina install a nationwide radar network to guard against British air attacks against coastal bases.
One high Army official confirmed that Argentina's radar defense systems in its major cities were weak. He said they did not have the ability to detect planes from a distance, and the systems were not linked.
This Army official, however, expressed surprise at reports that 20 Soviet technicians were now at air bases in southern Argentina working on an improvement of the system.
Diplomatic sources said that Argentina has been seeking military equipment in a wide variety of countries and international markets, including Israel, Spain, and Libya, as well as in Latin American countries. Argentina was believed to have received spare parts for its Mirage aircraft from Peru, these sources said, but there was no concrete evidence major weapons were obtained.
As expectation of the battle mounted, Buenos Aires--a metropolis of more than 8 million--seemed transfixed by the quiet from the front more than 1,000 miles to the south. Tense crowds packed downtown streets and cafes, waiting for news from a radio or wire-service displays while heatedly--and often bitterly--discussing what had once seemed a simple and glorious recovery of territory claimed by Argentina since 1833.
Officials at Noticias Argentinas, the principal source of information for many newspapers and radio stations, said the suspension resulted from a dispatch Tuesday saying supply flights to the Falklands were continuing from the mainland, including the transport of artillery.
Officials noted, however, that the same information has been published in leading newspapers, in many cases in far greater detail.
The military junta issued a decree shortly after the conflict began prohibiting publication of a wide range of information relating to the conflict without prior approval. The government established no procedure for enforcing the censorship, however, and in recent weeks principal news mediahave freely published and broadcast versions of the conflict from London and the United States.