People living on the South Atlantic archipelago of the Falkland Islands voted almost unanimously to keep their status as a British territory, rejecting Argentina’s claim to sovereignty.
After two days of balloting, 1,513 people of 1,517 chose to retain the status quo, according to the Falkland Islands Government. Three “No” votes were cast, and one vote was unaccounted for. The turnout was 92 percent.
The Falklands government called the referendum to reinforce its stance that the inhabitants want to stay British in the face of increasing pressure from Argentina, which says the islands were wrongly taken from it in the 19th century. Argentine forces were expelled by U.K. troops after invading in 1982.
“The Falkland islanders couldn’t have spoken more clearly,” Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters in London today. “They want to remain British and that view should be respected by everybody, including by Argentina.”
International observers accompanied five mobile polling stations as they traveled by Land Rover and airplane to collect votes from remote areas on the islands, nearly 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) from Britain. The Argentine government has dismissed the referendum as “irrelevant” and rebuffed attempts by the islanders to start negotiations.
The British prime minister phoned Gavin Short, the chairman of the Falklands Legislative Assembly, today to congratulate him on the result. Cameron told Short he was “over the moon” about the result and turnout, the premier’s office said in an e-mailed statement.
“We’ve said we stand by what the Falkland Islanders want to do, and now they’ve said it,” U.K. Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire told BBC television’s “Daily Politics” show. “We would hope that we can now re-engage with the Argentinian government, and the Argentinian government themselves will now stop this harassment and bullying that’s been going on for so long against the islanders.”
Argentina’s ambassador in the U.K. reiterated her country’s stance today that the territorial dispute was solely a matter for the two national governments.
“What we seek is very simple: a dialogue between two sovereign states,” Alicia Castro told Sky News television. “There is a sovereignty dispute. There are two parties. The islanders aren’t a third party to the negotiations.”
The dispute over the ownership of the islands has lasted since their settlement by the French in 1764 and the British in 1766. In 1843, the Argentine leader Juan Manuel de Rosas, looking for a way to settle a 1 million-pound bond from 1824 that had been in default for 15 years, offered to drop claims to sovereignty of the islands if the British government would take over the debt. Britain refused, arguing that it already possessed them.
Argentina, which calls the islands the Malvinas, invaded in 1982 and was forced out after a 74-day conflict in which 255 British and 649 Argentine military personnel died, along with three islanders. The war helped bring down the Argentine military leader, Leopoldo Galtieri, and bolstered the government of Margaret Thatcher in Britain.
The U.K. is prepared to fight to keep the islands British if they are invaded again, Cameron said in January in response to an open letter from Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in which she accused Britain of perpetuating colonialism. There are 1,200 military personnel in the British Falklands garrison, and the U.K. spends around 60 million pounds ($90 million) a year defending them.