Argentina's war with Britain over the Falkland Islands was a crime committed by a cowardly military dictatorship, but Argentina will never abandon its claim to sovereignty of the islands, said President Nestor Kirchner in a ceremony to mark the 24th anniversary of the Argentine landing April 2, 1982.
"To save itself, the dictatorship planned and executed a war while lying about its intentions" Mr Kirchner said. "Malvinas was a great frustration" he added. "We have to recognise our mistakes in order to face our future. The desire to forget blame cannot be allowed to erase our memory" he insisted addressing military leaders and veterans.
"Argentina's leaders showed cowardice over the war. With all respect for the heads of our armed forces, they were cowardly generals" Mr Kirchner said, describing the invasion as "one more crime of the dictatorship".
Seeking to distract attention from rocketing inflation, falling growth, rising unemployment and mounting opposition to human rights abuses, General Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of Argentina's ruling military junta in 1982, ordered what was expected to be a swift military campaign to seize the Islands, but led to a 74 days conflict and complete defeat for the dictatorship. Galtieri quit and democracy was restored to Argentina the following year.
Addressing veterans at the El Palomar air base, which dispatched the first Argentine troops and planes for the war, Mr Kirchner asked for forgiveness and thanked them "for what they did for the country".
But he made it clear that his criticism of the generals who authorised the disastrous war was one thing - and the legitimacy of Argentina's claim to sovereignty of the islands quite another.
"The Argentine nation ratifies its legitimate and imprescriptible sovereignty over the Falkland, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. Recovering these territories is a permanent and unrenounceable right of the Argentine people and is part of our central objectives" he underlined.
"Today, once again, we reiterate our willingness to restart talks with Britain, a dialogue between democracies" he said but adding that "they (British) must show they are willing to negotiate our claim to the Islands."
"We're not giving up and we'll be persistent. Malvinas is a national objective for all Argentines and we must recover them through dialogue and peace, but peace does not mean living with heads bent down", said the Argentine president recalling that "we have the full support of the international community in our claims".
Argentine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Brigadier Jorge Chevalier speaking with the press said that the "objective is the recovery of the Malvinas islands but through peaceful means; peace and diplomacy. Too much blood has been spilt and this must never occur again".
President Kirchner's speech was also tainted with references to the current Argentine political situation, particularly clashes with the press, large "economic groups" and critics of his economic policies.
Last week Argentina marked the 30th anniversary of the military coup that ushered in one of Latin America's most brutal dictatorships. An estimated 30,000 people disappeared during what was known as the dirty war. President Kirchner formally included March 24th to the Argentine calendar as a national day of reflection.