THE Falkland Islands Government has responded to a letter to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from the Argentine Government that offered discussions on airlinks to the Falklands and fisheries co-operation.
Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly Mike Summers said: "Given that these issues are the responsibility of the Falkland Islands Government the FCO sought the advice of the Assembly. We responded to the FCO in a letter dated 6th June, and this has been forwarded to the Argentine Government under a cover of a letter from the FCO dated 7th June."
The letter from the Falklands' Government notes that the proposals set out in the original letter from the Argentine Ambassador Alicia Castro, "are made not within a context of amity and friendship towards the Falkland Islands people but against a backdrop of increasing hostility."
The letter outlines that backdrop including ongoing attempts to target the Falklands fishing industry through the harassment of vessels and the denial of port access to ships flying the Falklands flag, and also outlines the value of the Chilean LAN flight to and from the Falklands.
It continues: "A welcome first step would be for the Government of Argentina – if it is sincere about improving air links to the Islands – to rescind its unjustified and illegal ban on charter flights overflying Argentina which, since 2003 has impeded access for tourists, business travellers and other visitors. This would be the sort of confidence-building measure which would allow discussions of other proposals, both those from the Argentine Government and others which we might wish to table."
On the subject of fishing the letter notes among other things: "We would welcome the resumption of scientific exchanges under the auspices of the South Atlantic Fisheries commission. It is a matter of profound regret that the Government of Argentina walked away from the SAFC."
The letter signed by the Hon Sharon Halford MLA concludes saying, "the Falkland Islands Government hopes these offers from Argentina herald a more positive and constructive approach to the Islands than we have experienced from them recently."
The Argentine Government has acknowledged receipt of the letters but has not responded.
Full text of letters to the Argentine Ambassador from the FCO and the Falkland Islands Government:
Response from Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Thank you for your letter to Jeremy Browne of 23 April, offering discussions on the issues of air links to the Falkland Islands and fisheries co-operation. The minister has asked me to respond as the Director responsible for the UK’s Overseas Territories.
Under the Falkland Islands Constitution of 2008, the issues of air transport links and fisheries are the legal responsibility of the Falkland Islands Government. I therefore forwarded your proposals on to the Falkland Islands Government for their consideration, and I am pleased to enclose their reply to me outlining the position.
You will see that the Falkland Islands Government welcomes any genuine initiative that helps to restore a spirit of co-operation between Argentine and the Falkland Islands, but they remain very concerned that Argentina’s offers come in the context of increasing hostility from your Government towards the Islanders.
Nevertheless the Falkland Islands Government is content to explore flights issues with the Government of Argentina, subject to a commitment from your Government that is will not seek to block the LAN air link, and that the Government of Argentina will also review its policy on banning charter planes from overflying Argentine airspace.
In respect to your offer to resume discussions on the mandate of the South Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SAFC), we would be happy to work with you on proposals that focus on improving the SAFC. Both the British Government and Falkland Islands Government are committed to the objectives of the SAFC and would welcome a resumption of scientific co-operation to underpin the broader conservation of the South Atlantic. As you will also note from the attached letter, however, the Falkland Islands Government have asked me to reiterate that discussions on fisheries co-operation should not be used as a forum for a discussion on sovereignty, which the people of the Falkland Islands do not want.
Subject to clarification of these points, I am advised that the Falkland Islands Government would be content to have preliminary discussions with the government of Argentina on these issues, in which the UK Government is also happy to participate.
I look forward to your response in due course.
Colin Roberts Director
Response from Falkland Islands Government –
Thank you for forwarding Ambassador Castro’s two letters of 23 April to Jeremy Browne, proposing discussion on flights and fishery issues. My colleagues and I have now considered these carefully and I should be grateful if you could relay the views of the Falkland Islands Government directly to Her Excellency, as set below.
Air links and fishery issues are both matters on which, as the Ambassador’s letters attest, we have previously been able to have productive discussions with the Republic of Argentina. Indeed, through the South Atlantic Fisheries Commission and the 1999 Joint Statement respectively, we enjoyed formal agreements which served the practical interests of both the Argentine and the Falkland Islands people. We would welcome a return to that spirit of co-operation.
However, we are also very conscious that the proposals set out in the Ambassador’s letter are made, not with a context of amity and friendship towards to the Falkland Islands people, but against a backdrop of increasing hostility. As you know, the Government in Buenos Aires not only continues to deny our right to self-determine our future, but is also actively seeking to damage our livelihoods and prevent us from developing our own economy.
In the last few months we have experienced ongoing attempts to target our fishing industry through the harassment of vessels and the denial of port access o ships flying the Falklands flag. We have seen letters sent to companies, operating legally within the Falklands, designed to intimidate and deter further investment. We have witnessed incidents of cruise ships that have visited the Falklands being subsequently denied entrance into Argentine ports, as part of an effort to damage our tourist sector. And we have received threats, including from the President herself last September, to block the only flight that links the Falklands to South America.
As a small and vulnerable population, we understandably feel threatened when the Government of a large country goes to such lengths to make our lives difficult. It was telling, in our view, that the Government of Argentina recently sponsored the deeply offensive television advert, depicting an athlete training on our war memorial. It illustrates, I am afraid, the contempt which the current Government of Argentina has for our rights as people. Argentina’s current approach inevitably colours how we view their proposals on flights and fisheries.
We value very much the existing LAN flight to and from Chile. We note that this service already stops at Rio Gallegos on a regular basis, enabling passengers to fly direct to and from Argentina. We welcome- and will continue to welcome- visitors from Argentina and from all over Latin America to the Falkland Islands. The LAN Chile route is well established, and serves not only as a passenger service but also enables us to receive fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables. It is also a vital ink for the 300 strong Chilean community on the Islands. So it our firm view that we want this service to continue, and hope very much that the Government of Argentina will confirm that it has no intention of blocking this vital link.
We are also keen, however, to strengthen communication links between Falkland Islands and the continent, and are prepared to discuss with the Argentine Government ways in which this may be achieved. A welcome first step would be for the Government of Argentina – if it is sincere about improving air links to the Islands – to rescind its unjustified and illegal ban on charter flights overflying Argentina which, since 2003, has impeded access to tourists, business travellers and other visitors. This would be the sort of confidence-building measure which would allow discussion of other proposals, both those from Argentine Government, and others which we might wish to table.
We would welcome the resumption of scientific exchanges under the auspices of the South Atlantic Fisheries Commission. It is a matter of profound regret that the Government of Argentina walked away from the SAFC. Both we and Argentina have a responsibility – to the environment and to future generations – to resume practical co-operation to safeguard straddling fish stocks. Conservation and sustainability have been the cornerstone of our fisheries policy since the establishment of the Falkland Islands fishery a quarter of a century ago. It is therefore important, in our view, that we are able to exchange data and to discuss the scientific rationale behind policy decisions such as season start-dates and allowable catch volumes. So the Falkland Islands Government would welcome a resumption in dialogue with Argentina, involving experts from here and the UK, for a discussion of these issues. It must be clearly understood by all parties, however, that such exchanges would be about practical issues of mutual benefit only and should not involve, or be regarded as a precursor to, discussions about the sovereignty of the Islands. I should be grateful if you could make this point to the Argentine Government.
Let me conclude by saying that the Falkland Islands Government hopes these offers from Argentina herald a more positive and constructive approach to the Islands than we have experienced from them recently. Attempts by President Kirchner’s Government to coerce us into abandoning our absolute right to determine our own political future are not only doomed to fail, but will only add to tensions – which can be in no one’s interest. So we urge Argentina to sit down with us, as democratically elected representatives of the Falkland Islands people, and find common ground. Attempts to side-line, ignore or ‘disappear’ the Falkland Islanders are no longer sustainable in a region that respects human rights, rule of law and democracy.
Hon Sharon Halford MLAOn behalf of the Legislative Assembly
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