BRUSSELS David Cameron said on Friday that Pope Francis had been wrong to say last year that Britain had "usurped" the Falkland Islands from Argentina, saying he respectfully disagreed with the new Pontiff.
Argentine media quoted Jorge Bergoglio saying at a mass last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the war over the islands between Britain and Argentina that the territory had been "usurped". In 2010 he was quoted as saying it was "ours".
When asked whether he agreed with the former archbishop of Buenos Aires on the issue, Cameron said on Friday:
"I disagree with him, respectfully," adding that residents of the South Atlantic islands had made it clear in a referendum held earlier this week that they wanted to remain under British rule.
"There was a pretty extraordinarily clear referendum in the Falkland Islands," Cameron told a news conference in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit.
"That is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands have chosen very clearly the future they want. That choice should be respected by everyone."
Argentina, 300 miles (500 km) to the west of the Falklands, has claimed the South Atlantic archipelago for almost 200 years and in 1982 invaded the islands only to be repelled in a 74-day war with Britain.
Diplomatic rows between London and Buenos Aires have escalated in recent months, with Britain resisting calls by Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez to renegotiate the sovereignty of the islands.
"The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear," Cameron said, jokingly referring to the signal over the Sistine Chapel that announces the successful election of a new pope.
(Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Additional reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Robin Pomeroy)