Falklands sceptical over Argentina's flights offer

BUENOS AIRES Mon Mar 5, 2012 5:28am EST

1 of 2. An aircraft belonging to LAN airlines remains stranded on the tarmac of Buenos Aires' domestic airport June 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique Marcarian

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's surprise proposal for its flag carrier airline to fly to the disputed Falkland Islands met with scepticism in the British-ruled territory on Friday.

President Cristina Fernandez said on Thursday she wanted to renegotiate a 1999 accord with Britain that allows a weekly flight by Chilean airline Lan LAN.SN (LFL.N), proposing instead that state-run Aerolineas Argentinas fly to the remote islands.

Diplomatic tensions have surged in recent months ahead of the 30th anniversary of the brief war the two countries fought over the South Atlantic archipelago, and the Falklands' assembly said it was hard to trust Argentina.

"(The president's) remarks were made ... against a backdrop of Argentine aggression and attempts to isolate the Falkland Islands economically," said Roger Edwards, spokesman for the eight-member elected assembly.

"It's therefore very difficult not to be sceptical of any proposal that would in effect give Argentina control over access to our home," he said in a statement.

Edwards criticized a recent Argentine-led ban on Falklands-flagged ships at ports in countries belonging to the Mercosur trade bloc - which includes Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - and a decision by provincial officials in a Patagonian province to turn away two cruise ships this week.

Fernandez started her political career in the Patagonian region closest to the Malvinas, as the islands are called in Argentina, and she has traded increasingly harsh words with London in the past months.

The friction has raised speculation over the future of the Falklands' only regular commercial flights, which pass through Argentine air space.

Britain, which says it will only agree to sovereignty talks if the roughly 3,000 islanders want them, has said the flights matter is an issue for the Falklands government to decide.

Jens Hentschke, professor of Latin American history and politics at Britain's Newcastle University, said Fernandez's proposal, unlike recent actions, "displays a more conciliatory attitude but cannot be separated from the broader conflict."

Few islanders are likely to see it as an olive branch.

"Such is the history of mutual suspicion, I suspect any initiative from Argentina will be greeted with cynicism," said Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at London University's Royal Holloway college.

More than 900 troops, most of them Argentine, were killed in the 10-week war that started on April 2, 1982.

Most Argentines see the war as a mistake by the discredited military dictatorship ruling at the time, but the islands remain a potent national symbol and everything from bakeries and ice-cream parlours to soccer stadiums are named after them.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London, Editing by Xavier Briand)

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