UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Britain and a representative of the Falkland Islands on Thursday rejected the idea of Pope Francis intervening in the long-running dispute with Argentina over the islands, which Buenos Aires claims are Argentine territory.
In 1982 Britain sent its armed forces to the Falklands to repel an Argentine invasion of the contested South Atlantic archipelago, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas.
Just over 30 years later, memories of the conflict remain and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has mounted a campaign to renegotiate the islands’ sovereignty, lobbying Pope Francis on the issue and rejecting a March referendum in which Falkland residents voted to remain a British Overseas Territory.
“I think the last thing we need is religion inserted into this,” said Mike Summers, a member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly.
Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s U.N. ambassador, echoed his remarks, saying: “I certainly share the view that religion is not likely to solve anything.”
Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, said in 2012 when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires that Britain had “usurped” the disputed islands from Argentina. In 2011, he said the islands were “ours,” a view most Argentinians share.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman told reporters that London should engage in direct talks with Buenos Aires on the dispute. Lyall Grant said Britain was open to dialogue with Argentina, but only if the Falklanders are involved, a position Timerman dismissed.
“I am the foreign minister of Argentina,” Timerman said. “I want to talk with the foreign minister of the United Kingdom.”
Timerman and Summers were in New York for an annual meeting of the U.N. Decolonization Committee on the Falklands-Malvinas dispute.
Earlier on Thursday, the committee adopted a non-binding resolution sponsored by a number of Latin American states that was similar to ones adopted in previous years. It calls on Argentina and Britain to enter into negotiations on the islands.
The Falklands are among the scattered remnants of the once mighty British Empire, which towered over 19th century history but faded into decline after World War Two.
Argentina argues it is absurd for Britain to have control of land so far from its own shores, accusing London of maintaining “colonial enclaves.”
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Stacey Joyce