Argentina has accused Britain of sending a nuclear submarine to the disputed Falkland islands, in an ongoing controversy between the two countries.
The South American country took its case to the UN secretary-general and UN Security Council on Friday, where Ban Ki-moon, the head of the world body, appealed to both sides to avoid an “escalation” of their sovereignty battle.
With both countries about to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, Hector Timerman, Argentina’s foreign minister, called the islands “the last refuge of a declining empire”.
Timerman said Britain had sent a nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic and was “militarising the region” in breach of a 1967 South American treaty which bans the presence, pursuit or use of nuclear weapons.
Britain recently deployed the HMS Dauntless, among the largest and most powerful of its air defence destroyers, to the Falklands.
The ship is expected to arrive next month and the UK says its deployment is a routine operation.
Argentina also denounced the dispatch of Prince William, second in line to the British throne, to serve as a rescue helicopter pilot in the area.
Mark Lyall Grant, the UK’s UN ambassador, said that his country would “robustly” defend the Falklands and that while Britain wanted talks with Argentina, there could be no sovereignty negotiations unless the population wanted it.
Argentina invaded the islands, which it calls the Malvinas, in 1982 and Britain sent a naval force to reclaim the territory. Argentina has since regularly taken its claim to the islands to the UN.
Grant would not comment on whether a nuclear submarine was near the Falklands, but he said the claims of militarisation were “rubbish” and “manifestly absurd”.
“It is only because Argentina illegally invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 that we had to increase our defence posture. Nothing has changed in that defence posture in recent months or recent years,” Grant said.
“We are not looking to increase the rhetoric. We have not started a war of words.
“But clearly if there is an attempt to take advantage of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War by Argentina then we will obviously defend our position and defend it robustly.”
After talks with Timerman, Ban “expressed concern about the increasingly strong exchanges between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom,” said Martin Nesirky, the secretary-general’s spokesperson.
“He expressed the hope that the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom will avoid an escalation of this dispute and resolve differences peacefully and through dialogue.”
Ban said he was ready to use the UN’s “good offices to resolve this dispute” if both sides requested, Nesirky said.
The Argentine minister called for Britain to discuss sovereignty at negotiations, and attacked Britain’s use of military power to control the South Atlantic islands from 14,000km away.
“It is perhaps the last refuge of the declining empire,” Timerman said. “It is the last ocean that is controlled from the UK. Britannia rules only applies in the South Atlantic.”
Britain has reaffirmed its stance in recent days that there can be no negotiations over the future of the islands unless the 3,000 Falklands inhabitants want it.
Britain has complained about Argentina withdrawing from joint accords on the Falklands.
Argentina in December persuaded the Mercosur Latin American trade bloc to stop Falklands-registered ships from entering member ports.
It has stopped charter flights heading for the Falklands from using Argentine airspace.
Diplomats say the tensions can mainly be attributed to the anniversary of the conflict sparked by Argentina’s invasion of the islands on April 2, 1982.
Britain sent a task force to retake the territory it has held since at least 1833.
The 74-day war cost the lives of 649 Argentine, 255 British troops and three islanders.
Since the war, the UN General Assembly has passed resolutions calling on Britain and Argentina to negotiate a settlement.
Argentina also presses its claim each year at the UN’s Decolonisation Committee.