Britain expanding Falklands claim zone: Argentina

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Argentina claimed Thursday that Britain was seeking to expand its presence around the Falkland Islands by creating a marine protection zone in equally disputed islands to the southeast.

A British official told The Times newspaper Wednesday that Britain is planning to create a one million-square-kilometer (386,100-square-mile) marine protection zone around the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands in the wind-swept south Atlantic.

The islands are 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) south-east of the Falklands, known here as the Malvinas. Argentina claims all of the islands.

"I believe the decision to create a sanctuary in the Georgias is no more and no less a move that... under the cover caring for the environment, allows them to broaden their usurpation zone," Argentine Defense Minister Arturo Puricelli told La Red in reacting to the news.

If Britain was truly worried about the environment, Puricelli said, "then they would have to first stop unilateral underwater oil explorations."

At least three British companies have been exploring for oil off the Falklands. In mid-September, the British company Rockhopper Exploration announced that it hopes to begin oil production in the region in early 2016 and have a maximum output 120,000 barrels per day by 2018.

The marine protection zone, which has not yet been formally announced, would allow authorities to ban the slaughter of whales and other wildlife, while fishing would only be permitted in designated areas, according to The Times.

Britain and Argentina went to war over the islands in 1982. While London reclaimed them after an Argentine military invasion, Buenos Aires has never abandoned its ownership claim.

Argentina and Britain have renewed diplomatic ties since the war, but tension remains over control of the South Atlantic archipelagos.

In September, President Cristina Kirchner warned that Argentina could suspend bilateral working agreements if London fails to sit down for talks over the sovereignty of the islands.

And in mid-November, Argentina complained that Prince William's six-week mission as a rescue pilot in the Falklands, set for February, was "a provocative act."

Britain has long maintained that it will keep control of the islands, whose inhabitants are overwhelmingly of British descent.

© 2011 AFP

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