British posture on Falklands 'smells of oil': Argentina

Argentina's foreign minister said Thursday that Britain's attachment to the Falkland Islands had a "strong smell of oil," in a swipe at British underwater prospecting around the disputed archipelago.

Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who visited London this week to meet groups promoting bilateral dialogue, accused Britain of "not moving its posture by one iota" and "using the islanders to justify its own intransigence."

"What I sense in the British position is a strong smell of oil," Timerman told Radio del Plata.

The dispute between the two nations has heated up since Britain authorized oil prospecting in the waters around the South Atlantic islands in 2010.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague invited Timerman to join him in talks with two members of the eight-member Falkland Islands legislative assembly during his trip, but Argentina's top diplomat pointedly declined.

In London, Timerman said Falkland Islanders "do not exist" and that Argentina would have control of the British-held islands within 20 years.

Argentina says the dispute must be resolved through negotiations between Buenos Aires and London, without the participation of the islanders.

Britain has held the islands since 1833, but Argentine forces invaded in 1982, prompting then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to send ships and troops to reclaim control. The 74-day war left 649 Argentines and 255 Britons dead.

Buenos Aires, which calls the islands the Malvinas, claims the archipelago is occupied Argentine territory and that the 3,000 islanders are simply British citizens who live there.

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. Argentina says the vote is illegal.