US says 'no change' to neutral Falklands stand

The United States on Tuesday said it took "note" of an overwhelming vote by Falkland Islanders to remain a British territory, but refused once again to take sides in the dispute with Argentina.

"The residents have clearly expressed their preference for a continued relationship with the United Kingdom," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"That said, we obviously recognize that there are competing claims. Our formal position has not changed. We recognize the de facto UK administration of the islands, but we take no position on sovereignty claims."

The islanders organized the two-day vote in response to increasingly bellicose sovereignty demands by Argentine President Cristina Kirchner.

A near unanimous 99.8 percent of the 1,672 eligible voters in the disputed South Atlantic archipelago voted to stay a British territory, according to official results, with a 92 percent turnout. Only three of the 1,517 valid ballots cast voted "no."

The United States had seen "the will that's been expressed by the people of the island, but that doesn't change the fact that there are completing claims," Nuland said.

All sides should "be constructive in their approach and focus their own efforts on a resolution," she added.

London has held the Falklands since 1833, but Buenos Aires says this is an occupation and the British residents are colonial implants with no right to self-determination.