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Argentina has been accused by the British government of trying to intimidate the Falklands Islands after its London embassy wrote to several banks, warning them against involvement in oil exploration around the disputed South Atlantic archipelago.
The Foreign Office said the letter reflected a pattern of behaviour by the South American country of an “illegal and wholly counter-productive” nature.
“We are studying Argentina’s remarks carefully and will work closely with any company potentially affected to ensure that the practical implications for them are as few as possible,” the Foreign Office said.
The letter came ahead of Monday’s 30th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and followed months of rising diplomatic tensions. Cristina Fernández, president of Argentina, has threatened to cancel permission for the only commercial flight to the Falklands to fly over her country, and protests have taken place outside the UK embassy in Buenos Aires.
Britain has meanwhile deployed a destroyer, HMS Dauntless, to the islands. David Cameron, prime minister, will issue a statement on Monday warning that the UK remains “staunchly committed” to upholding the right of Falkland islanders to determine their own future.
“That was the fundamental principle that was at stake 30 years ago and that is the principle which we solemnly reaffirm today,” he will say.
Reacting to the embassy letter, the UK government said it was “not in Argentina’s economic interest” to put up barriers to trade.
Explore the economic and political set-up of the islands
“It is very sad that Argentina continues with a policy of confrontation instead of co-operation,” it said. “It is both counter-productive and a complete misreading of British resolve.”
The letter, sent to banks including Royal Bank of Scotland and Goldman Sachs, warned institutions to bear in mind the sovereignty dispute when offering opinions, risk ratings or investment recommendations to clients. “It should also be borne in mind that . . . participation in those activities will cause companies directly or indirectly involved in them to be subject to . . . administrative, civil and criminal actions.”
There are five London-listed exploration companies active around the Falklands, the largest being Rockhopper Exploration.
Edison Investment Research, one of the institutions sent the letter, has predicted that a big discovery in the “Southern Basin” of the Falklands could “radically change the islands’ royalty and tax revenues”.
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