The referendum on the fate of the Falkland Islands is a publicity stunt with no legal status, Argentina's ambassador to Britain said on Monday, warning that oil exploitation around the territory was impossible without better regional ties.
The Falkland Islanders are scheduled to vote in a referendum on March 10-11 to decide on their political status and future.
The vote comes as relations between Argentina and Britain worsen over the disputed territory, where the two nations fought a 10-week war in 1982 after the Argentine military invaded the Islands.
This referendum has no legal grounds. It's not approved, nor will it be recognised by the United Nations or the international community, Argentine ambassador Alicia Castro told reporters at a briefing in London.
So this referendum is little more than a public relations exercise, she said.
Britain says the Islanders have a right to self-determination, and insists they be present at any talks with Argentina over the future of the Islands, but Buenos Aires says the matter should only be discussed by two sovereign states, since the population of the Falklands as such “does not exist”, according to recent statements from Foreign Minister Hector Timerman.
The Argentine Government has already dismissed the referendum before it has even taken place, a position that runs counter to the universal principles of democracy and self-determination, a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
Argentina considers the Falklands' roughly 3.000 inhabitants as foreign implants, and has compared them to Israeli settlers on land Palestinians want for a future state.
The referendum is widely expected to confirm the Islanders' wish for the remote territory to remain as a British Overseas Territory.
We hope that the outcome of this referendum will demonstrate beyond doubt the views of the people of the Falklands and whether or not they wish to remain a British Overseas Territory, the Foreign Office spokesman added.
According to the Falklands Registrar Office 1.672 individuals are eligible to vote in the referendum based on the electoral role. The majority reside in the capital Stanley, 1.390; on East Falklands, 141; on West Falkland, 87 and 54 in small islands of the archipelago. The Falklands’ government has organized air, sea and land mobile units to ensure all those interested in voting, despite low population density and islands dispersion can do so.
Argentina has ramped up its claims to the Falklands, where oil exploration firms are expected to produce their first crude in 2017, and last month Argentina's foreign minister visited London but did not meet his British counterpart.
Ambassador Castro said Latin American and African countries backed Argentina, and warned that oil exploration around the Falklands would be unfeasible without proper links to the South American continent.
In a measure of support for Argentina, Mercosur members which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela has banned Falklands-flagged ships from docking at their ports, but not those flying the red ensign.
Uruguayan president Jose Mujica prevented the Mercosur measure from becoming a full blockade as proposed by Argentina, arguing Uruguay will not support any measures that infringe on the human rights of any population, be it Islanders or non Islanders.
Oil exploration is feasible, but oil exploitation is unfeasible ... Imagine if a spill happens there in some remote islands 8,000 miles from here ... with no proper link to the continent, without doctors, logistics, engineers, Castro said.
However Argentine hostility has not deterred oil companies. Rockhopper Exploration has formed a one billion partnership with Premier Oil to pump oil from its find north of the Islands. Likewise Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd has US Noble Energy and Italy’s Edison as partners in its licences to the south and north of the Falklands.