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WORLD | 18-02-2024 09:22

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron to visit Malvinas Islands this week

British government says foreign secretary will become first top official to top visit disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands; Date not provided for trip, which comes after President Milei re-affirmed sovereignty claim during election.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron will visit the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands in the coming days – an event that is sure to raise the hackles of officials in Argentina.

The visit of Cameron, a former prime minister of the United Kingdom, is a move to reiterate London’s support for the "right" to "self-determination" for the islanders of the archipelago, over which the United Kingdom and Argentina fought a short war in 1982.

In a statement released Sunday, Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed that Cameron would travel to the islands, which are known as the Islas Malvinas in Argentina, as part of a trip to the Americas that will include stops in Paraguay, Brazil for a G20 meeting of foreign ministers and the UN’s headquarters in New York.

"The foreign secretary will visit the Falkland Islands as part of his trip to the Americas," the UK Foreign Office said in a statement, without specifying the exact dates of the trip. 

The trip comes less than three months after the inauguration of Argentina’s President Javier Milei, who has reaffirmed his nation’s sovereignty claim over the islands.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has outrightly rejected the idea. Britain said Sunday that Cameron would “stress London's commitment” to the islanders and their “right to self-determination.”

“Foreign Secretary David Cameron will visit the Falkland Islands during the first leg of his first visit to the South Atlantic, South America and New York,” read the UK government  statement.  

He “will meet leaders of the Falkland Islands Government and see the range of communities that form part of the British family when he visits Stanley and other sites around this Overseas Territory,” it continued.

"The Falkland Islands are a valued part of the British family and we are clear that as long as they want to remain part of it, the issue of sovereignty will not be up for discussion," Cameron was quoted as saying in the statement.


Controversial visit

Cameron’s trip to the South Atlantic archipelago will be the first visit of a sitting UK Cabinet minister to the islands since then-UK defence secretary Michael Fallon travelled in 2016.

Two years earlier, then-Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Hugo Swire visited, prompting an angry diplomatic reaction from Argentina.

The territory, located 400 kilometres off Argentina’s coast and almost 13,000 kilometres from the UK, was the subject of a brief 74-day war in 1982 that left 649 Argentines, 255 British dead and three islanders.

Argentina claims it inherited the windswept islands, which have been occupied by Britain since 1833, from Spain when it gained independence in 1816. 

Britain says it has historically ruled them and that the islanders should have the right to self-determination.

In 2013, in a referendum in the territory of just 2,000 inhabitants, 99.8 percent of voters voted to remain under British sovereignty.

In 2022, Princess Anne visited the islands to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Britain's victory in the South Atlantic war.

During his trip, Cameron will meet islanders "and see their work to build a thriving community and protect their natural environment," read the Foreign Office statement.

"He will reiterate the UK's commitment to uphold the islanders' right of self-determination," it added.

He will also honour British service personnel who lost their lives during the 1982 conflict.

Cameron will continue his tour in Paraguay and then attend the G20 foreign ministers' meeting scheduled for February 21 and 22 in Rio de Janeiro.

The tour will conclude in New York, where he will visit the UN headquarters on the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Changing relations?

A spokesman for British Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on November 20 congratulated Milei on his victory in Argentina's presidential election, but ruled out any change in Britain's position on the islands.

"I haven't seen [Milei's] most recent comments on that", but "on our side, it's obviously a long settled issue. There are no plans to revisit that," he said at the time.

Cameron and Milei met in mid-June on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for "warm and cordial" talks but talks on sovereignty did not progress.

The La Libertad Avanza leader was initially criticised by his domestic rivals during the election campaign for his lukewarm support for his nation’s sovereignty claim. 

He later announced his desire to "recover the islands through diplomatic channels" in response to the criticism.

"We got into a war that we lost and we have to make every effort to get the islands back through diplomatic channels,” he said. “Of course I will defend the Malvinas.”

Milei has floated the idea of a UK handover in the style of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

The British Foreign Office statement said Cameron "will pay his respects to those who lost their lives during the 1982 conflict and express his thanks to UK military personnel serving on the islands today.”

 

– TIMES/AFP
 

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