Hammond denies Prince's Falklands duty is 'provocation'

The Duke of Cambridge
Image caption The Duke of Cambridge's deployment to the Falkland Islands has been criticised by Argentina

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has denied that the deployment of Prince William to the Falkland Islands is provocation towards Argentina.

Speaking at a Nato meeting in Brussels, he insisted it was a "routine deployment".

The Duke of Cambridge has arrived in the Falklands ahead of a tour of duty as an RAF search and rescue pilot.

Prince William, whose younger brother Prince Harry served in Afghanistan in 2008, will have a six-week posting.

It comes amid tensions between the UK and Argentina, where the disputed territory is known as the Malvinas.

Asked whether the prince's deployment to the Falklands was inflaming the situation, Mr Hammond said: "Well, it shouldn't."

"He's there as a search and rescue pilot; that's a humanitarian function and it's a routine deployment."

"All UK naval and air force search and rescue pilots do a stint in the Falklands and Prince William is doing his tour now," he added.

The Royal Navy will send one of its latest warships, the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dauntless, to the region on her maiden mission in the months ahead.

Heightened tensions

Dauntless is expected to replace the frigate HMS Montrose in the area.

The Royal Navy has said the Portsmouth-based destroyer's deployment has been planned for a long time, and is not a reaction to heightened tensions over the Falklands.

The Ministry of Defence has said Prince William's posting - as part of an RAF crew of four - is a "routine deployment" for a Sea King pilot as part of "normal" squadron rotation.

Buenos Aires has described it as a "provocative act" and said the duke would be wearing "the uniform of a conqueror" when he deploys.

Argentina's foreign ministry said it "rejected the British attempt to militarise conflict".

'Political' denial

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner have accused each other's countries of "colonial" behaviour concerning sovereignty of the South Atlantic islands.

Gen Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, has dismissed Argentine claims of a "political" aspect to the duke's deployment.

"I can absolutely tell you it wasn't and isn't designed to be," he said.

Britain has held the islands since the 1830s, but Argentina insists it has a prior claim.

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