UK plans marine protection zone near Falklands: official

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Britain is planning a huge marine protection zone near the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic ocean, in an area that is also claimed by Argentina, an official said Wednesday.

The Times newspaper reported that the zone measuring one million square kilometres will be around the island of South Georgia, where the Falklands war began nearly 30 years ago, and the South Sandwich Islands.

A British official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the details in the Times and said a formal announcement was due in the coming days by the government of the islands, which are a British overseas territory.

"We are planning a marine protection area. There's no real secret about it, we have talked to the stakeholders and discussed it with the fishing industry," the official told AFP.

"These are UK waters that are under discussion."

The marine zone would allow authorities to ban the slaughter of whales and other wildlife, while fishing would only be permitted in designated areas, the Times said.

It is a habitat for penguins, walruses and Patagonian toothfish, it added.

The Foreign Office in London said any announcement on the subject would be made by the government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, but said it would back such a marine zone.

"We would support moves which preserve the rich biodiversity of the Islands, which is a habitat for seven species of globally threatened seabirds," a Foreign Office spokesman said in an emailed statement.

"The UK has no doubt about the sovereignty over the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (and the Falklands).

"Argentina, like the UK, is a member of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which oversees the sustainable management of the Southern Ocean."

Britain has formally controlled the Falkland Islands since 1833, South Georgia since 1775 and the South Sandwich islands since 1908, but Argentina considers them as occupied parts of its territory.

The Falklands War was sparked when Argentinians posing as scrap metal merchants occupied South Georgia on March 19, 1982, and then the Argentinian junta invaded the Falklands themselves on April 2.

Argentine forces surrendered on June 14 after a conflict which cost the lives of 649 Argentine troops, 255 British troops and three Falkland islanders.

© 2011 AFP

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