Argentina has started legal proceedings against five companies drilling for oil and gas in the disputed Falkland Islands, raising tensions over the islands' sovereignty in part because three of the companies are based in Britain.
The spat is the latest between Britain and Argentina, who fought a short war over the Falklands — or Las Malvinas, as the islands are known in Argentina — in 1982 which Britain won. The war killed more than 600 Argentine and 255 British soldiers. The islands, which lie 300 miles off the Argentine coast and 8,000 miles from Britain, are claimed by both countries.
Daniel Filmus, Argentina's minister for the Falklands, announced the start of the lawsuit in London on Friday, saying a judge in Rio Grande, Argentina, had agreed to take on the case.
The main companies involved in oil drilling in the Falklands are Premier Oil, Falkland Oil and Gas and Rockhopper, which are based in the U.K., as well as Edison International and Noble Energy — both based in the U.S.
Filmus told a press conference at the residence of Argentina's ambassador to London that his country was determined to use international and national law to pursue the case.
“I want to make it clear for the directors of these companies and for British public opinion that Argentina will use the full force of the law — both national and international law — to prevent these countries from taking the riches which belong to 40 million Argentine citizens,” Filmus told BBC News. “Argentina has extradition treaties around the world and we intend to use them.”
Filmus said anyone found guilty of illegal exploration in Argentina would face a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison, while sentences for illegal extraction would be even longer.
The U.K. responded angrily to the comments and the Argentinian lawsuit, with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond calling it “an outrageous piece of bullying,” adding that it threatened against “Falkland Islanders' perfect right to develop their own economic resources.”
The judge will now decide how to proceed. The government of the Falkland Islands — one of Britain's self-governing territories — said it had a right to develop its own economy.
“Exploration drilling has been happening in Falkland Islands waters for many years,” the government said in a statement. “The Government of Argentina continues to ignore our inalienable right to determine our own future.”
Earlier this month, Premier Oil and Falkland Oil and Gas announced they had found oil and gas at the first well they drilled in a nine-month drilling campaign.
The discovery of oil has raised tensions over control of the Atlantic archipelago, with Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez calling the announcement “almost provocative.”
Al Jazeera and Reuters