Argentina rejects oil fine protest

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Argentina has rejected British protests over a threat to punish oil firms operating off the Falkland Islands with heavy fines, the seizure of assets and jail sentences of up to 15 years.

A formal protest was lodged on Monday by the Foreign Office with Argentine charge d'affaires Oscar Horacio Galli, on the grounds that the Falklands are not subject to a new law passed last month by the Argentine Congress.

A Foreign Office spokesman described the threat as "a baseless gesture intended to deter legitimate commercial activity" and accused Buenos Aires of "bullying tactics" in the long running dispute over the sovereignty of the islands.

But Argentina's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has now responded with a letter to the British Ambassador in Buenos Aires, John Freeman, in which it asserts that Argentine law applies to the waters around the "Malvinas" - Argentina's name for the Falklands - South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands because they are an "integral part of the Argentine territory" which is "unlawfully occupied" by Britain.

The letter states: "The Argentine Government rejects the attempt by the United Kingdom to promote and authorize the exploration and exploitation of renewable and non-renewable natural resources in the area subject to the sovereignty dispute, which is a manifest violation of Resolution 31/49 of the United Nations General Assembly, which urges both parties to the dispute to refrain from introducing unilateral modifications in the situation while the Islands are going through the process recommended by the General Assembly.

"The United Kingdom's attempt to authorize hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities in the area subject to the sovereignty dispute is also in violation of the obligation to settle international disputes through peaceful means arising from Article 2, paragraph 3, of the Charter of the United Nations."

The letter dismisses the referendum in March this year, in which Falklanders voted by 1,513 to three in favour of remaining British, insisting that the result " does not in any way alter any aspect of the sovereignty dispute over the question of the Malvinas Islands, which remains unresolved because of the British Government's repeated refusal to comply with its obligation under international law to peacefully settle the dispute maintained with the Argentine Republic by resuming negotiations."

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