UK & World News

  • 12 March 2013, 12:33

Falkland Islanders Vote To Remain British

David Cameron has demanded that Argentina respect the result of a referendum in the Falklands which saw an overwhelming majority back staying under British rule.

Just three voted 'No' in the ballot about remaining a British Overseas Territory, with 99.8% supporting the status quo.

International observers ratified the poll, in which 92% of eligible voters - or 1,513 people - took part, as "free and fair"

The Prime Minister warned that Argentina should take "careful note" of the result, which he said was the clearest possible message.

"The Falkland Islands may be thousands of miles away but they are British through and through. That is how they want to stay," he said.

"They want to remain British and that view should be respected by everybody, including by Argentina."

Nigel Haywood, governor of the Falkland Islands, added: "You don't get a much clearer expression of the people's self-determination than such a large turn out and such a large yes vote."

Argentina has yet to officially react to the referendum but had already dismissed the vote as illegal and "pointless".

It claims the people have no voice in deciding what is a dispute about sovereignty that should be resolved directly with Britain.

But delighted residents, who sang Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia after the result, insisted they must be heard.

One woman celebrating in Stanley told Sky News: "It sends such a strong message to the world that we've been here for a long time.

"We have the right to determine our own future. How long do you have to live in a country before you're allowed to call it your own?"

The referendum was organised after a deterioration in relations between Britain and Argentina, which claims the Falklands and in 1982 invaded the islands it calls Las Malvinas.

During the war to take back the islands, 255 British serviceman died as well as 655 Argentinians and three locals.

Relations appeared to warm for a period until Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner restated her country's claims of sovereignty and tried to raise the issue with David Cameron and the UN.

Although Buenos Aires dismissed the referendum as illegitimate and refused to talk to Falkland politicians, the islanders hope other countries in South and Central America will be more sympathetic.

As the counting took place in Stanley Town Hall, it quickly became clear the piles of "Yes" votes were growing steadily, while "No" votes were nowhere to be seen.

There was a delay in announcing the result because one vote went missing during the count but officials eventually decided it was not worth a recount for a single missing ballot.

The result means the Falklands will continue to run its own affairs, but shelter under the wing of the motherland when it comes to defence and foreign policy.

Falklands' legislators know the referendum will be dismissed by the Argentine government, but one of them, Dick Sawle had this message for President Kirchner.

"Listen, this is what we've said and it's time you respected our human rights," he said. "It's time you stopped harassing us; it's time you stopped your very aggressive stance towards us.

"We'll be taking that message to various governments and saying 'look, self determination is a fundamental human right, you can't ignore it'. This is what the people of the Falklands have said. Do you have a problem with that?"