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20 Feb, 2010 05:14

British oil ambitions on Falkland Islands fuel fresh row with Argentina

Tensions are mounting over British plans to start oil production near the Falkland Islands. London says drilling will start on Sunday despite Argentina's vehement opposition.

The disputed archipelago is a particularly sore topic for Buenos Aires, after a war was fought for it in the 1980s.

It has been 28 years since British forces swept in to take back the Falkland Islands following an Argentinean invasion. And although nearly 3 decades have passed, the UK once again finds itself at loggerheads with Argentina, with the South American country threatening to stop a British oil rig drilling in disputed waters off the Falklands.

“The Argentinean government firmly denies the claims of the United Kingdom to realize the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons on the continental platform of Argentina. Moreover the Republic of Argentina reaffirms its rights of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which form an integral part of its national territory," reads an official statement from the Argentinean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Those are fighting words. But it’s a fight Britain can’t afford at the moment.

Britain is currently engaged in a bloody war in Afghanistan, and only last year ended its military operations in Iraq. The army and Royal Marines are stretched to their limits, and can ill-afford to divert precious resources away from current operations, particularly over a struggle for assets more than 8,000 miles away.

The UK's claim on the Falklands, known locally as Las Malvinas, is a massively contentious issue in Argentina. Possession of the islands is something that unites people across the political divide – reason enough, some commentators feel, for the country to start its saber rattling.

"Now the present government in Argentina has difficulties – economic difficulties, the president has lost her government majority in the mid-term election – it’s the usual attempt to deflect away from domestic trouble to something that does unite all the people, and for a while it might work. But if they push it too far, it could backfire very seriously," The Times editorial writer Michael Binyon told RT.

The UK has maintained a sizable military presence in the islands since the conflict in the 1980s, with the hope that it would be enough of a deterrent from an attack again. But with its armed forces under intense pressure elsewhere, some military analysts speculate whether Argentina could be tempted to try to take the islands back again, putting the UK in a difficult dilemma – to pull troops out of where they are already needed, or risk losing the Falklands forever.

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