MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay–The countries of a South American customs union agreed to work to block ships flying flags from the disputed, British-held Falkland islands from dropping anchor in their ports.
The Mercosur group includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador as associate members.
The presidents of the four full member countries signed a declaration Tuesday vowing “to adopt, in conformity with international law and respective domestic legislation, all the measures it’s possible to impose to impede the entry of boats flying the illegal flag of the Malvinas Islands,” according to a copy of the agreement released by the Argentine foreign ministry. Argentina refers to the islands as the Malvinas.
Britain has controlled the islands since 1833 and fought a two-month war with Argentina over the territory it claims in 1982, resulting in the deaths of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers.
Argentina increased its claims of sovereignty over the Falklands, as well as South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, following the start of oil and gas exploration last year by London-listed oil-and-gas exploration companies Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd., Rockhopper Exploration PLC, and Desire Petroleum PLC.
In February 2010, Argentina began requiring ships sailing to or from the Falkland, South Georgia and South Sandwich islands to seek permission if they want to travel through Argentine waters.
The couched language of the Mercosur declaration contrasts to a more forceful stance taken by Uruguay on behalf of Argentina, which continues to claim the islands and refuses to acknowledge British control.
Earlier in the meeting Uruguayan President José Mujica said in a statement that he would block Falkland Island-flagged ships from entering Uruguayan ports, although said his country would do nothing to stop ship’s flying different colors from sailing to the British-held islands.
However, navy ships from the U.K. bound for the Falkland Islands would not be allowed to port in Uruguay “for reasons of solidarity with Argentina,” Mr. Mujica said.
The U.K. Foreign Office said Wednesday it was concerned by the Mercosur decision.
“It is unacceptable to engage in an economic blockade of the Falklands. Mercosur should take the responsible decision and not do this. There can be no justification – legal, moral or political – for efforts to intimidate the people of the Falkland Islands,” a British foreign office statement said on Wednesday.
Sparks flew earlier this month when Uruguay turned back a Spanish-owned fishing boat flying a flag from the Falkland Islands.
On Friday, Britain summoned Uruguay’s ambassador to voice its complaints over the move, but Mr. Mujica stood firm. “We don’t have anything against England, but we’ve got a lot in favor of our neighbors,” he said in a statement.
The U.K. has repeatedly said that its sovereignty over the three groups of islands, whose inhabitants are overwhelmingly of British descent, isn’t negotiable.
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