Falkland Islanders to hold a referendum on their ‘political status’ in 2013

Nik Darlington 2.25pm

The Falkland Islands government has announced that it will hold a referendum in early 2013 on its “political status”.

The surprise move came during a recent visit to the islands by the Foreign Office minister, Jeremy Browne. His FCO colleague, David Lidington, has made a statement on the issue to the House of Commons today, in which he said:

This decision, which was one taken by the Falkland Islanders themselves through their elected representatives, has the full support of the British Government.

The referendum will be organised by the Falkland Island Government and will take place in the first half of 2013. Independent, international observers will be invited to observe the process. […]

The Argentine Ambassador to the UK has claimed that the Islanders would be quite happy living under Argentine rule, on the basis that some of them have been on holidays to Argentina. The Islanders regularly rebut these baseless allegations…

This [referendum] will provide a legal, fair and decisive means for the people of the Falkland Islands to express their views. […]

While the Argentine Government offers threats and misleading rhetoric, the Islanders have responded with dignity and determination.  […]

I hope that Argentina, and indeed all in the international community, will take note of the Islanders’ views.

Tomorrow, 14th June, is the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands by British forces. During the two-month conflict, 649 Argentines and 258 British troops lost their lives, with many hundreds more wounded.

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Argentina and the Olympics sports equipment crisis

Alexander Pannett 10.30am

The point when cereal becomes too soggy to eat and all that can be done is to create sludgy mounds in a homage to a Steven Spielberg film.

That’s generally how I view the Argentine president’s persistent attempts to annoy with petty stunts about the Falkland Islands.

It is a predicament that cannot be helped and says more about the deleterious solidity of President Kirchner’s domestic policies than her success in being the toast of South American diplomacy.

Her latest gambit has been to smuggle the Argentine hockey captain, Fernando Zylerberg, on to the Falkland Islands and film him carrying out a Rocky-style training montage next to some of the island’s iconic sites, including performing step-ups on a war memorial.

I personally do not have a problem with foreign professional sports players using our country’s facilities to train for a sporting event that has often been used to make infantile political gestures.

My concern is that Mr Zylerberg conducted no training exercises with a hockey stick. Surely this is a vital piece of equipment to hone up with before a major hockey event?

The BBC bitesize website has an excellent training session for improving stick skills.  I am sure that we could send a delegation of celebrities to Argentina to carry out hockey drills with sticks around deserted Argentine landmarks to help out our Argentine fellow sporting aficionados before the Olympics proper. Ant and Dec could present it.

Then there is the statement that appears at the end of the video: “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil.”

Is the Argentine government complaining about the training facilities available to their Olympics team in London? Do they only ever train on soil that has been imported from Argentina? Do other countries also insist on such strict training requirements? (The recent hilarity that is BBC’s Twenty Twelve might hold some clues.)

This could potentially be a massive disaster, overlooked by Lord Coe and LOCOG. We should immediately send a container ship on a world tour to gather soil from each participating country so that each can have a little bit of home turf in Britain on which to practise.

You have to wonder how the Falkland Islanders view all this. They are not even allowed to appear in the video, which has a strange 28 Days Later charm to it. I’m not suggesting that the clip may actually be a trailer for an Argentine Zombie B-movie but, if so, I wonder if the Falklanders will be cast as the antagonists or if the film will centre on flesh-eating penguins. Maybe William Hague could be revealed as the Zombie Lord in chief.

The attribute of this plot is that Zombies do not have a right to self determination under international law. Which will make it far easier to re-patriate the islands once the penguins are convinced of the merits due to the broadcasting of further Argentine training videos that display their athletic prowess (though evident equipment shortages).

The best part of this latest development from Argentina is that it reflects a re-interpretation of the “liberal intervention” doctrine. If only we had filmed the British & Irish Lions rugby union team doing push ups in the Afghan countryside, the Taliban would have clearly fled in awe of our athletic bluster. We should not be using drones armed with missiles but fitness robots, such as this Japanese one, which incidentally looks a bit like a cuddly Michelin Man (above image).

To complete the new fitness revolution in international relations, we just need a catchy soundbite to go with it.

Unfortunately, all I can think of is an instinctive British rural one.

“Get off my land”.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett

Remember the Falklands and never forget its beginnings

Nik Darlington 8.32am

Today is the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. Events are taking place in Britain, Argentina and on the islands to mark the occasion.

In 1982, 2nd April fell on a Friday, meaning that Parliament met on a Saturday for the first time since the Suez crisis to talk over what Russell Johnston, Liberal MP and member of the Falkland Islands Association, called that “shameful day”.

Julian Amery, the Conservative MP, blamed a lack of preparation and the Government’s defence cuts, lamenting, “the consequences of our defeat yesterday will be a good deal more expensive.”

However heroic, the campaign to recover the Falkland Islands was costly, particularly in the aftermath, albeit not as costly as regularly believed. From 1982 to 2006, the war and the subsequent defence of the islands had a net cost to Britain of approximately £25 billion (2006 prices). The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), by comparison, was costing £3 billion per year in the early 1990s.

However, no one can put a price on the cost of 258 British and 649 Argentine personnel who lost their lives during the war, nor the many hundreds more wounded in action. It is them who we remember most today.

What of the future defence of the islands, and how to prevent another conflict from breaking out?

The lesson for Mr Cameron’s government, undergoing its own round of defence cuts (especially to long-range naval capability), is to be as prepared as possible.

Argentina, led by her ebullient president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has waged sustained diplomatic skirmishes in the months leading up to the anniversary. Yet this emotional fervour masks a struggling economy and threadbare armed forces.

On the surface, the proxy aggression is irritating rather than damaging. Argentina’s Latin American neighbours murmur their support but few are willing to make too concerted a stand on behalf of the Argentine claims to the islands.

And the Falkland Islands today are relatively well protected by the couple of thousand military personnel at RAF Mount Pleasant, with its four Typhoon aircraft. The state-of-the-art Type 45 destroyer, HMS Dauntless, is also on deployment.

Military sources say that Argentina’s military is largely under-equipped, badly equipped, and - in comparison to 1982 - poorly organised. The generals do not wield the influence they once did, and the funding simply isn’t there to update weaponry and train troops.

The exception, however, is Argentina’s special forces, which I am told are well trained and well resourced. In March 1982, a band of Argentine soldiers disguised as scrap metal workers stole on to the island of South Georgia, south-east of the Falklands, in the first offensive action of the war.

Following the war, South Georgia housed a small garrison of British soldiers, to protect it and surrounding islands from any repeat Argentine invasion. These soldiers were replaced by civilian members of the British Antarctic Survey in 2001.

If even a small detachment of Argentine special forces managed to gain a foothold on South Georgia, or other islands in the group such as Southern Thule (also invaded during the 1970s, but kept quiet by the Callaghan government), it would pose grave problems for Britain’s diplomatic standing.

It might be difficult to justify heavy military retaliation for such a relatively minor action. In all likelihood, it would drag British officials to the negotiating table, precisely where we refuse to be as long as Falkland islanders profess their allegiance to Britain.

As we remember the last Argentina invasion of the Falkland Islands, let us leave no stone unturned, and no entry route open, to prevent any such thing taking place again.

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