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Argentine minister, UK lawmakers trade barbs in stormy meeting

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* Argentine foreign minister Timerman in high-profile visit to UK

* Timerman stakes claim to Falklands, declines to meet UK counterpart

* Timerman has acrimonious debate with British lawmakers

By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Argentina accused Britain on Tuesday of promoting Israeli-type settlement on occupied land in the Falkland Islands, while British parliamentarians said Buenos Aires was using "megaphone diplomacy" to assert its claims to the islands.

A bid to build confidence and bolster trade between Britain and Argentina in London's parliament descended into acrimony as British lawmakers and Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman traded barbs over the remote South Atlantic islands.

Britain and Argentina fought a 10-week war in 1982 over the Falklands, part of Britain's self-governing territories some 300 miles (482 km) off Argentina's coast.

Buenos Aires calls the islands Las Malvinas, and has ramped up efforts to stake its claim to the territory as firms seek to tap oil and gas deposits around the islands.

Timerman, visiting Britain to further his country's claims to the Falklands, has declined to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague to discuss the issue due to Britain's insistence that Falkland islanders also attend the meeting.

Argentina insists that the dispute is one between two states, and the views of the roughly 3,000 people living on the islands should be expressed through their own government, while Britain says the islanders have a right to self-determination.

Timerman dismissed a referendum on the islands' future planned in March, a vote widely expected to show the islanders want to remain British.

"The people living in the islands are British subjects, asking them if they want to be British is like asking (Israeli) settlers if they want to be Israeli or Palestinian. It makes no sense," Timerman said during a heated exchange.

Asked about his remarks to British media where he predicted Argentine ownership of the islands within two decades, Timerman said: "Through dialogue and support from all over the world we will be able to talk with the British and have a good result."

But he ruled out any future military move to seize the islands.

"No, of course, no never again, never," he told Reuters.

British parliamentarians accused Argentina of using "offensive" arguments and "megaphone diplomacy" in asserting its claims to the islands.

BANG THE DRUM

British lawmaker Chris Bryant labelled the comparison to Israeli settlers offensive, while Derek Twigg, who heads parliament's Falkland Islands group, retorted that the issue of self determination was "non-negotiable".

"The Falklands are not for Britain to give, or Argentina to take," he said.

Martin O'Neill, a member of parliament's upper chamber, accused Argentina of megaphone diplomacy and said Argentina never missed an opportunity to "to bang the drum".

"It is one thing to come here and refuse to meet people. It's quite another thing to eschew any possibility of more subtle means," he told Timerman.

Both sides had started the meeting stressing historic ties and the benefits of boosting bilateral trade. Timerman had thanked Britain for its sacrifices during World War II.

The Argentine foreign minister was unfazed, and repeated his call for talks with Hague, but without the islanders.

"It is not true I don't want to hear the Falklanders' views. They have a foreign affairs minister who can tell me anything he wants about their views," he said, adding that he was ready for an open dialogue "right now".

"We can have a great future but there are issues in which we have to talk frankly and openly." (Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Jon Hemming)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130205/argentine-minister-uk-lawmakers-trade-barbs-stormy-meeting