THE Falkland Islands is to hold a referendum to bring an end to the continuing dispute with Argentina over the islands’ sovereignty, it was announced today.
It comes as Falklanders prepare to mark the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the islands.
Three decades after Margaret Thatcher sent 27,000 troops and more than 100 ships to repel the Argentinian invaders, Buenos Aires continues to set its sights on claiming the territory it calls Las Malvinas.
But the Falkland Islands government said it hopes a referendum will send a firm message to Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner that islanders want to remain British.
Reacting to the announcement, Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘I have always said that it is up to the Falkland Islanders themselves to choose whether they want to be British and that the world should listen to their views.
‘Thirty years ago they made clear that they wanted to stay British. That’s why British forces bravely liberated the island from Argentine invaders.
‘Now the Argentine Government wants to put that choice in doubt again, by shouting down the Islanders’ ability to speak for themselves and punishing them for exercising their own free choice.
‘That’s why it’s absolutely right that the Islanders have today set out how they intend to make their voices heard once more. And Britain will be resolute in supporting their choice.
‘Next year’s referendum will determine beyond doubt the views of the people of the Falklands. Britain will respect and defend their choice. We look to all UN members to live up to their responsibilities under the UN charter and accept the Islanders’ decision about how they want to live.’
The Falkland Islands have been under British control since 1833 - apart from the brief but bitter 74 days of occupation in 1982.
Gavin Short, chairman of the Falklands’ Legislative Assembly, said: ‘We are holding this referendum not because we have any doubts about who we are and what future we want, but to show the world just how certain we are about it.
‘I have no doubt that the people of the Falklands wish for the islands to remain a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom.
‘We certainly have no desire to be ruled by the government in Buenos Aires, a fact that is immediately obvious to anyone who has visited the islands and heard our views.
‘But we are aware that not everybody is able to come to these beautiful islands and to see this reality for themselves. And the Argentine government deploys misleading rhetoric that wrongly implies that we have no strong views or even that we are being held hostage by the UK military. This is simply absurd.’
The Falkland Islands has a population of around 3,000 people, with just over half on the electoral roll and expected to take part in the vote.
The referendum will be organised by the Falkland Islands government and will take place in the first half of next year.