Argentina declines invitation to Falklands meeting

British cemetery at San Carlos, East Falkland
Image caption The Falkland Islands has a population of around 3,000

Argentina's foreign minister has turned down a Foreign Office invitation to meet members of the Falkland Islands government in London next week.

Hector Timerman rejected the offer, saying: "The international community does not recognise a third party in this dispute."

The island's legislative assembly had said they anticipated a "full and frank exchange of views" in such a meeting.

The Foreign Office said the offer of a meeting "still stands".

A referendum on the islands' political status is to be held in March.

Mr Timerman insisted that the United Nations regarded the dispute over the Falklands as a bilateral issue between London and Buenos Aires.

'Right and proper'

Foreign Secretary William Hague is due to meet Mr Timerman during his visit to London next week, scheduled for 4-6 February.

The Foreign Office informed and invited political representatives of the Falkland Islands government in December, so they could also attend the meeting.

Responding to Mr Timerman's rejection, an FCO spokesman said Britain remains "open to discuss a wide range of issues that affect our two countries" and added it was "clear" the discussions about the Falkland Islands were "on his agenda" during his visit to the UK.

"We remain concerned about the Argentine government's behaviour towards the Falkland Islanders, so it is right and proper that they are involved in the part of the meeting that concerns the Islands.

"We have made that clear to the Argentine government in recent exchanges, and the foreign secretary's offer of a meeting on these terms still stands," the spokesman concluded.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is also said to be "disappointed" by Mr Timerman's decision.

His spokesman told reporters: "We are not prepared to talk over the heads of the Falkland Islanders about matters that directly affect their status as a British Overseas Territory."

'19th Century colonialism'

Earlier this month, Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, urged the prime minister to abide by a 1965 UN resolution to "negotiate a solution" to the dispute.

Argentina claims the islands - which it calls the Malvinas - were forcibly stripped from Argentina in "a blatant exercise of 19th Century colonialism".

Last year, marked 30 years since the Falklands War - when the islands were occupied by Argentine forces for 74 days.

A statement issued by the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly after the Foreign Office issued the invitation, but before it was turned down by Mr Timerman, said its representatives Dick Sawle and Jan Cheek, would not be "negotiating any deal".

"We look forward to giving Mr Timerman some very direct messages on the unacceptability of Argentina's actions against the Falkland Islands in recent years," it said.

"We demand that our rights be respected, and that we be left in peace to choose our own future and to develop our country for our children and generations to come.

"It is only right that he should hear this directly from us, as well as from Mr Hague."

Image caption The Falkland Islands and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are British Overseas Territories

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