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Falkland Islanders 'do not exist' says Argentina

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Wednesday that the Falkland Islanders "do not exist" after snubbing the chance of talks with their government members.

Timerman told a press conference in London that the 3,000-odd residents of the South Atlantic archipelago were simply British citizens who live there.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague met Jan Cheek and Dick Sawle, from the eight-member Falkland Islands legislative assembly, for talks at the Foreign Office in London, but Timerman declined an invitation to join them.

"The Falkland Islanders do not exist. What exists is British citizens who live in the Islas Malvinas," Timerman said at the Argentinian ambassador's residence, using the Spanish-language name for the windswept, barren isles.

"The United Nations does not recognise a third party in the conflict. It says there are just two parts -- the UK and Argentina.

"And therefore what we are saying is that we will continue to hope and continue to insist on dialogue.

"When Britain recognises that there are two parties in the dispute, we are going to resolve the conflict in much less than 20 years," he said, referring to his comments Tuesday that Argentina expects to control the islands within two decades.

Britain has held the islands since 1833, but Argentine forces invaded in 1982, prompting then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to send a naval task force to reclaim control in a brief but bloody conflict.

Buenos Aires claims the islands are occupied Argentinian territory.

Diplomatic agitation by Argentina has intensified since 2010, when London authorised oil prospecting in the waters around the islands.

Cheek dismissed Timerman's claims.

"Talk of the Falklands being Argentine in 20 years makes for good headlines -- but smacks of desperation," she said.

"We want good neighbourly relations with Argentina, we are willing to talk with them and we cannot be ignored. Self-determination is a universal right.

"Mr Timerman dismisses us as 'settlers'. Well, we are settlers. Like countries across the continent of the Americas, we came into existence through waves of settlement from Europe and elsewhere."

She said Timerman knew "full well" it was untrue to say that UN resolutions prevented Argentina from holding direct talks with Falklanders.

"Repeating these misrepresentations doesn't make them any truer, however inconvenient for Argentina," Cheek added.

A referendum is to be held on the Falklands on March 10 and 11, asking the islanders whether they wish to retain their status as a self-governing British overseas territory.

Hague said it was "a shame" that Timerman would not meet with Cheek and Sawle for talks.

"There is no way such a conversation could have taken place without members of the Falkland Islands government being present, especially given the current Argentine government's behaviour towards the Islanders," he said.

"It is, and must always be, for them to decide their own future."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130206/falkland-islanders-do-not-exist-says-argentina