An overwhelming majority of the residents of the Falkland Islands have voted to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Argentina, which claims sovereignty over the islands, has already rejected the result.
After two days of voting, Falkland Islanders have overwhelmingly voted in favor of retaining their ties with London.
98.8 per cent of the electorate cast their ballot in favor of maintaining the status quo. Only three "no" votes were cast.
Some 1,672 residents were eligible to vote in the referendum, which was organized by the islanders themselves in an attempt to gain international support against Argentian claims on the territory.
"[The message is] that we wish to retain the status quo....with the right to determine our own future and not becomea colony of Argentina," said Roger Edwards, one of the eight elected members of theFalkland Island assembly'.
International observers from Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, the United States and Uruguay had monitored the polling stations, but Argentinian officials had already dismissed the vote.
"It's a manoeuvre with no legal value, which has neither been convened nor supervised by the United Nations," said Alicia Castro, Argentina's ambassador to London.
According to opinion polls most Argentinians believe the islands, called Islas Malvinas in Spanish, rightfully belong to Argentina. And most Latin American countries have voiced support for this view.
The islands have long been a source of tension between Argentina and the UK. In 1982, Argentinian dictator Leopoldo Galtieri ordered an invasion of the islands, prompting a British military response. The two countries fought a 10-week war, in which some 650 Argentinians and 255 British soldiers were killed.
Argentina argues that it inherited the islands from its former colonial master Spain and that London expelled an Argentinian garrison in 1832. Some Falkland Islanders today are the descendents of British settlers who arrived nine generations ago.
The Falklands now have just 2,563 inhabitants, four-fifths of whom live in the capital, Stanley.
The government in London, some 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) away, has argued it would not discuss sovereignty issues with Buenos Aires against the islanders' wishes.
Tensions have risen as the UK has moved to develop oil reserves off the coast of the islands. Oil production could start in 2017.
rg/jm (AFP, Reuters)