UK Politics

Argentina leader Fernandez seeks Falklands flight link

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez addressing Congress in Buenos Aires
Image caption President Fernandez says the UK's refusal to negotiate sovereignty is "incomprehensible"

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez says she wants to renegotiate an agreement with the UK on flights to the Falkland Islands from South America.

The islands are currently served by weekly flights from Chile.

But Ms Fernandez said she wanted the air link to be operated by Argentina's state-owned airline direct from Buenos Aires.

In response, the UK government said any discussions on flights were a matter for the Falkland Islands government.

But the Foreign Office said it expected Argentina to honour its commitments under a 1999 agreement allowing flights from Chile.

In recent months Argentina has stepped up its territorial claim to the Falklands, which it calls the Malvinas.

President Fernandez was speaking in a state-of-the-nation address to the Argentine parliament.

Blockade fear

She repeated her demand that the UK enter negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falklands, and again accused Britain of "militarising" the South Atlantic.

And she said she had asked her foreign minister to renegotiate the 1999 agreement with Britain allowing flights from Chile to the Falklands.

"We want flights to the islands from mainland Argentina - Buenos Aires - operated by our flag-carrier, Aerolineas Argentinas," she said.

There have been concerns in the Falklands that Argentina might block the flights operated by Chilean airline LAN, which are the islands' only air link with South America.

"The weekly flight to and from Chile is a well-established route, and is valued greatly by the Falkland Islanders, including the Chilean community and others," a UK Foreign Office spokeswoman told the BBC.

"It would be deeply disappointing and utterly unjustifiable if Argentina put pressure on this flight to be suspended".

The spokeswoman added that if Argentina wanted to promote air links between the continent and the islands, it should reconsider a ban on charter flights through its airspace.

"President Fernandez's current policy of seeking to isolate and dictate to the Falkland Islanders - from the harassment of fishing vessels to the closure of shipping ports - is indefensible and will not succeed," she said.

Rising tension

Argentina has stepped up diplomatic pressure on Britain to negotiate over the Falklands in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, which falls next month.

Earlier this week two cruise ships were turned back from an Argentine port after visiting the Falklands, and Argentina's industry minister urged Argentine companies to stop buying goods from Britain.

The UK says it will not discuss sovereignty as long as the Falkland Islanders wished to remain British.

Tension over the islands has been inflamed by offshore oil exploration by British companies, something Argentina sees as an attempt to "steal" natural resources.

Critics in Argentina have accused Ms Fernandez of using the dispute to distract attention from domestic problems, including high inflation.

On 2 April, both nations will mark the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War, which began with an Argentine invasion of the islands and ended in victory for a British task force sent to recover them.

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