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Updated: February 18, 2010 00:48 IST

‘Argentine decree will control Falklands shipping’

AP
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Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez. File photo: AP.
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez. File photo: AP.

Argentina’s president issued a decree on Tuesday seeking to control all shipping to and from the Falkland Islands, escalating her fight with Britain over drilling for oil and gas in the South Atlantic.

Cristina Fernandez’s order doesn’t stop at shipping for the oil industry: It applies to any boat going to or from the islands, which Argentina refers to as the Malvinas.

Ms. Fernandez said that Britain occupies the archipelago illegitimately and that it has failed to comply with United Nations resolutions requiring negotiations on its future.

The decree says ships must get prior permission before entering Argentine seas - and despite Britain’s military victory in the war over the Falklands in 1982, Argentina officially considers the entire South Atlantic continental shelf to be its territory.

The decree doesn’t say what action Argentina will take if ships don’t comply, and Argentine officials declined to comment beyond the wording of the decree, which was read by Ms. Fernandez’s cabinet chief at a news conference.

The British Foreign Office said on Tuesday that the decree would not affect shipping through the area.

Regulation of the Argentine territorial waters is “a matter for the Argentine authorities; this does not affect Falkland Islands territorial waters, which are controlled by the islands’ authorities,” the ministry said in a statement.

The archipelago was claimed by the Spanish crown and then the Argentine government until 1833, when Britain occupied it.

Argentina’s military government retook the islands by force in April 1982, provoking a war with Britain, which recovered them two months later. The war cost 649 Argentine and 258 British lives.

But Argentina still has not given up its claims, and formally objected to the start of oil exploration.

Several British companies are poised to begin offshore exploration using a $35 million offshore rig, the Ocean Guardian. Desire Petroleum Plc has licensed six areas where it predicts 3.5 billion barrels of oil and 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas can be recovered.

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