Argentina, Britain mark Falklands War’s 30th anniversary

BUENOS AIRES — Separated by an ocean and an ongoing dispute, Argentina and Britain commemorated the 30th anniversary Monday of the outbreak of war between them over the Falkland Islands, a tiny territory that Buenos Aires still wants back but London refuses to give up.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner dedicated a cenotaph with the names of 649 fallen soldiers in Ushuaia. Her country’s ill-fated forces were launched from the southern port city in 1982, only to be beaten 74 days later. She railed against the British for holding on to the islands, which lie about 300 miles east of Argentina’s Patagonia region — and about 7,900 miles from London.

“It’s absurd, this control from 9,000 miles away,” said Fernandez, with slight exaggeration. Argentina has long claimed the islands it calls the Malvinas, which have been under British control since 1833.

But Fernandez also launched a broadside against the military junta in Buenos Aires that took the country to war. She said she recently declassified a secret government study called the Rattenbach Report, which found that the brief but bloody conflict was “a military adventure” undertaken unwisely by the leaders who ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

“We Argentinians are owed the truth over what happened in the war,” Fernandez said. “It was not a decision of the people, but by the dictatorship.”

The war also claimed the lives of 255 British troops, part of a force that then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher quickly cobbled together to respond to Argentina’s unexpected invasion of the Falklands. Government documents show that Thatcher faced the possibility of having to resign over the incident because Britain had been caught so unprepared.

In central England, British veterans of the war and relatives of the dead gathered for a memorial service and lighted a single candle that will be kept burning for 74 days. A priest prayed for remembrance and peace.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that he and his compatriots were “proud of the role Britain played in righting a profound wrong.”

“Britain remains staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future,” Cameron said in a statement. “That was the fundamental principle that was at stake 30 years ago, and that is the principle which we solemnly reaffirm today.”

About 3,200 people live on the Falklands; nearly all are British citizens.

In Buenos Aires, about 50 ex-soldiers camped out Sunday night in a tent in the Plaza de Mayo to keep vigil for the fallen. A late-afternoon Mass on Monday for those killed was scheduled in the main cathedral. A demonstration was also planned later Monday in front of the British Embassy.

Tension between the two nations over the Falklands has been rising recently. The British navy is dispatching a warship to the South Atlantic for what it says are routine exercises near the islands. Prince William, second in line to the throne, recently returned from a brief deployment to the Falklands as a helicopter pilot.

Last week, Fernandez warned all Argentine banks not to lend money to any of the oil exploration projects being discussed for the Falklands region. She has also won the support of other South American and Caribbean nations in her effort to have the United Nations’ decolonization committee take up the issue of the islands.

Special correspondents D’Alessandro and Kraul reported from Buenos Aires and Bogota, respectively. Times staff writer Chu reported from London.