The United Kingdom and Argentina are ratcheting up the contest over the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic, this time over oil exploration, nearly 30 years since their conflict over the island chain.
The UK has accused Argentina of "intimidating" Falkland Islands residents while Buenos Aires said Britain is encouraging "illegal" oil exploration around what it calls the Malvinas.
In Buenos Aires, Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said his country would pursue "legal, administrative, civil and criminal" action against oil companies seeking windfall reserves off the remote archipelago.
"We are going to defend the resources of the South Atlantic. The South Atlantic's oil and gas are the property of the Argentine people," Timerman said at a news conference late on Thursday.
Britain's Foreign Office described the Argentine comments as "unbecoming and wholly counter-productive."
"From harassing Falklands shipping to threatening the Islanders' air links with Chile, Argentina's efforts to intimidate the Falklands are illegal," the Foreign Office said in a formal statement.
The diplomatic wrangle comes as Argentina prepares to mark the 30th anniversary of the April 2 invasion of the British-controlled islands.
The invasion lasted 74 days before British forces sent hastily to the south Atlantic ousted the Argentines in a conflict that cost the lives of 649 Argentine troops, 255 British troops and three Falkland islanders.
Tensions flared anew in 2010 when Britain authorized several small British oil exploration firms to drill in waters off the islands. At the United Nations last week, Argentina complained that Britain had sent naval vessels, including its most modern destroyer HMS Dauntless, to the region. Britain said the dispatch was routine.
An oil discovery last year is tipped to deliver crude from 2016 and pour billions in taxes and royalties into the coffers of the archipelago's 3,000 residents. The predominantly sheep farming economy became what Britain calls an Independent Oversees Territory in 2002.
Argentina's constitution was amended in the 1990s to proscribe recovery of the Malvinas by peaceful means as a national priority. At international forums, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has often pushed for sovereignty talks on the premise that, under UN resolutions, unilateral action by Britain is contestable as long as the territorial dispute persists.
ipj/sjt (AFP, AP, Reuters)