Britain blasts Argentinian 'bullying' over Falklands

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain could never be bullied by Argentina into giving up the Falkland Islands, in an interview published Sunday.

Hague told The Sun newspaper that Argentina's "intimidatory" behaviour only fortified the 2,500-odd Falkland Islanders in their determination to remain a self-governing British overseas territory.

He also branded his Argentine counterpart Hector Timerman's claims that the South Atlantic archipelago would be under the control of Buenos Aires within 20 years as "fantasy".

"There should never be a reward for bullying or threatening behaviour in international affairs," Hague said.

"This is a community that is nearly 200 years old. They seem very determined to remain British.

"If there's any chance they would change their minds, the approach by Argentina is completely counter-productive.

"It only fortifies the islanders' determination to stay British. It is only going to add to the decades and centuries that the Falklands will remain British."

Britain has held the barren, windswept islands since 1833, but Argentine forces invaded in 1982, prompting London to send a naval task force to reclaim control in a brief but bloody conflict.

Buenos Aires claims the islands are occupied Argentinian territory.

Timerman visited London last week but refused to meet Hague as the British minister insisted on Falklands government representatives being present.

On his visit, Timerman shook hands with a stranger who gave him a letter, only to learn it was one of the Falklands representatives.

"You would think the poor minister had suffered an electric shock judging by the way he recoiled," Hague said.

"These are people who have rights -- just like those in the UK and Argentina.

"There are families in the Falklands who are in their ninth generation.

"The Falklands have been there longer than Argentina has had its current boundaries or existed in its current form."

He hinted that Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner was using the Falklands as a way to divert from domestic problems.

Buenos Aires has rejected the dialogue of the 1990s in favour of "a pattern of bullying and intimidatory behaviour", he said.

"It would be better to talk to the islanders rather than deny their existence or claim Argentina will have the islands within 20 years. These things are fantasy.

"It would be far better for their country to be realistic."

Hague accused Kirchner and Timerman of "misreading the character" of British and Falklands people.

"Everything we have seen and heard in the last week is the last thing that would ever work."

A referendum is to be held on the Falklands on March 10 and 11, asking the islanders whether they wish to retain their current status.