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Natasha Niebieskikwiat

STANLEY - In the first message from the British government of the Falkland Islands after the referendum on the archipelago’s future, Gavin Short, chairman of the Falklands eight-member legislative assembly, did not mince his words.

“President Fernandez de Kirchner – we have sent you a message: we have absolutely no desire to be ruled by the Government in Buenos Aires. I hope that now you might respect that. Now is also the time that the rest of the world starts to listen to the voice of the Falkland Islanders, rather than empty lies, endless rhetoric and political posturing.”

Five assembly members appeared in front of the press on a frigid Falklands morning at Stanley Town Hall, the government headquarters, and after having received a congratulatory phone call from British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Tuesday press conference took place in the same place where the local authorities had, the night before, announced the results of the referendum that asked: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?” With a 92% voter turnout, 99.8% of people (1513 persons) voted “yes,” which is to say they voted for remaining British territory. Only 0.22% of the voters (3 people) voted “no.”

A non-negotiable

“This morning, my fellow Falkland Islanders and I woke up to a new future. I am proud, both of our people, and of our community for last night our country made its voice heard,” Short started reading, acting as the spokesperson for the assembly. “For those who may have missed it, we have sent out a clear message to the world; a resounding ‘yes’ to our desire to remain as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. For the first time in our long history, there can be no misinterpretation as to how we feel about our relationship with Britain. It is a relationship that has evolved over centuries, and one that we are proud to maintain."

The message was heard by the British governor of the Falkland Islands, Nigel Haywood, who while constantly defending his country’s position and sovereignty over the islands, had sought to emphasize that it was a referendum of the “islanders.” His recent speeches at the assembly took great pains to differentiate between “the Argentine people,” and “Cristina’s government,” which did not get much sympathy, largely thanks to the hardening of policies in relation to communications, fishing rights and oil.

Although the referendum is not legally valid in terms of international law, the assembly members were very firm with questions from the press. They announced that they intended to start an international campaign. Assembly member Mike Summers is currently travelling to Washington DC and New York, where he is hoping to talk to US State Department officials and meet with the United Nations.

Although the Falkland Islands leaders admitted that they were once colonized by Great Britain, they denied that the archipelago was still a colony. They insisted that the islands now have a large amount of autonomy. But they also emphasized that the British armed forces “liberated” them from Argentina during the Falklands war of 1982.

Towards the end of the conference they mentioned that they would like to build a bridge with Argentina, but maintained the position that they have always had: They are willing to talk to Argentina, which must however recognize them as part of the dialogue. They would be willing to talk about cooperation as long as there was no discussion of sovereignty.

“Sovereignty is non-negotiable,” said Jan Cheek, another of the assembly members present.

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