Latin America & Caribbean

Falklands: UN chief calls on UK and Argentina for calm

UK Royal Navy destroyer HMS Dauntless, photographed in 2009, which is being sent to the South Atlantic
Image caption The UK says HMS Dauntless is being sent to the South Atlantic as part of routine operations

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called on Argentina and the UK to avoid an "escalation" in tensions over the disputed Falkland Islands.

His appeal came as Argentina's foreign minister made an official complaint to the UN about the UK's "militarisation" in the South Atlantic.

The minister said the UK had increased its naval power "four fold" by recently sending a destroyer to the region.

The two countries went to war in 1982 over the British overseas territory.

The UK says it is only carrying out routine operations in the South Atlantic, off Argentina's east coast.

HMS Dauntless, which is due to arrive off the Falklands in March, is among the largest and most powerful of the UK's air defence destroyers.

The UK says the islands have been militarised ever since Argentina's invasion in 1982 and insists its defences remain unchanged and the warship is only replacing one in the area.

'Declining empire'

Mr Ban's office said in a statement that the UN secretary general had "expressed the hope that the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom will avoid an escalation of this dispute and resolve differences peacefully and through dialogue".

Image caption It is not clear if Argentina plans to pursue any further action at the UN beyond Friday's protest

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said he welcomed Mr Ban's offer of mediation and urged the UK to enter into talks over the islands, quoting the late musician John Lennon: "Let's give peace a chance".

At a news conference in New York, Mr Timerman went on to detail how Argentina believed the UK was flouting a regional non-nuclear pact by the presence of a nuclear submarine in the South Atlantic.

The UK has not confirmed or denied reports of a submarine off the Falklands.

Mr Timerman showed slides of the region which pinpointed the UK naval bases, saying: "Great Britain is the largest military presence in the South Atlantic, controlling access to the Pacific and Indian Oceans."

Such increase in naval power showed the Falklands was the "last refuge of a declining empire", he said.

The status of the islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas, is still a highly sensitive issue for Buenos Aires.

In December, Mercosur, a South American trading bloc, closed its ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag.

The escalating rhetoric reflects escalating tensions over the 30th anniversary in April of the Falklands war, the BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN in New York reports.

It is not clear if Argentina plans to pursue any further action at the UN beyond Friday's protest.

Our reporter says there is a fair bit of sympathy at the UN headquarters for Argentina's position that the Falklands are a British colonial holdover.

The UN General Assembly has already passed non-binding resolutions urging the two to solve the dispute through negotiations.

The UK says the islanders have the right to self-determination and it will enter into negotiations on the status of the Falklands only if they request it.

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