New Malvinas secretary says Buenos Aires will defend its claim to islands and surrounding waters in international courts

Argentina will seek legal punishment, including prison sentences, for anyone who drills for oil in the Falklands and the surrounding waters it claims as its territories, the country’s newly created Malvinas secretary has said.

In his first interview with the international media since taking the post, Daniel Filmus also warned that companies involved in exploration of the disputed areas will be disqualified from potentially more lucrative work in Vaca Muerta (the giant shale oil deposit in Argentina’s Patagonia region) and offshore areas.

“We will go to the international courts. It must be known that Argentina will defend its claim,” Mr. Filmus said. “Whoever doesn’t obtain authorisation will not only face administrative consequences but also prison sentences.” The statement emphasises the government’s determination to enforce a recently passed law bringing in fines of up to $1.5bn and prison sentences of up to 15 years for companies and executives who explore for oil on the Falklands seabed without permission from Buenos Aires.

Given the country’s lack of authority over the Falklands, applying such sanctions may be difficult, but Mr. Filmus’s role will require new strategies to push a territorial claim that was knocked off course by the 1982 war. Up until the invasion by General Galtieri’s troops, London and Buenos Aires had conducted decades of secret talks about the possibility of shared sovereignty or a leaseback of the islands.

Mr. Filmus said his central goal was to bring Britain back to the negotiating table. “Those [previous] talks implied the recognition of the existence of the dispute and that the way to resolve it was by both sides sitting down to talk,” he said.

But Argentina will continue to refuse to talk to the islands’ inhabitants, who voted last year to remain under UK rule. “There are 2,50,000 British descendants in Argentina, but they don’t claim the land they stand on is British,” Mr. Filmus said.

Mr. Filmus is a close ally of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and answers to the foreign minister, Hector Timerman. The new post created for Mr. Filmus is meant to underline the earnestness of Argentina’s claim. “It’s a decision taken by the president to reaffirm the importance the government gives to the Malvinas problem,” he said. “There are few issues in Argentina that provoke such heartfelt support from not only all political forces but from the population in general.” In a sharply worded statement, the Foreign Office said Argentina’s initiative would fail. “The British government fully supports the rights of the Falkland Islanders to develop their hydrocarbons sector for their economic benefit. This right is an integral part of their right of self-determination, which is expressly contained in the international covenant on civil and political rights ... Argentina’s attempts to strangle the Falkland Islands’ economy and damage our important bilateral trading relationship will not succeed.” — © Guardian News & Media 2014

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