Eyewitness: South Georgia

March 30, 2001

A British Antarctic Survey research station opened last week on South Georgia in the south Atlantic as the last British troops, stationed there since the Falklands war with Argentina in 1982, withdrew.

Argentina has interpreted the pull-out as a sign of British goodwill and a step towards recognising Argentine claims to the Malvinas/Falkland islands. But Britain has stressed the scientific and strategic aspects.

Chris Rapley, director of the Cambridge-based BAS, said: "This is an excellent opportunity for BAS science. This fisheries science programme is a step forward in managing fish stocks in a way that sustains the populations of penguins, seals, whales and seabirds."

Antonio Anselmo Martino is a political science professor at Italy's University of Pisa who gave up his professorship of philosophy of law at the University of Buenos Aires after his country's military coup in 1976. He said the move showed that "Britain no longer fears Argentine military adventures".

"But the problem of sovereignty needs resolving. An idea would be to seek joint Argentine-British sovereignty, which need not be 50-50. The key is to find a way of respecting the fact that the islands are part of the Argentine national identity."

International law is on Argentina's side, Professor Martino said. "Legally, Argentina's position is very strong since there has been no break in the continuity of its sovereignty claims since 1820. It has always refused to recognise the British re-invasion of the islands in 1833."

A few weeks ago, the Falklanders, whom Argentines call "los kelpers", proposed a combined patrol of shared territorial waters. Argentina did not reply because recognition of the Falklanders would have weakened sovereignty claims.

Meanwhile, former president RaNol Alfons!n and former justice minister Guido di Tella said they favour listening to the islanders.

"The situation is almost ridiculous," Professor Martino said. "There is even a kelper who plays for (the Argentine) Boca Juniors soccer club. The British would like to give the Malvinas away but are prevented from doing so by considerations of prestige and strategic position."

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