By Alex Stevenson
Argentina is set to open a new legal front in its 'war of attrition' against the Falkland Islands.
Minister Hector Timerman used a press conference in Buenos Aires to outline his country's plans to take "the required legal, administrative, civil and criminal actions against oil companies currently involved in drilling".
Rockhopper Exploration, a Wiltshire-based energy firm, is the only company to have struck oil so far in the waters around the Falklands. It is seeking investment to develop its 'Sea Lion' discovery further, with an estimated 350 million barrels of crude oil at stake.
Other companies, like Falkland Oil and Gas, are pressing ahead with deeper drilling operations as the search for hydrocarbons continues.
Their plans could be halted by Mr Timerman's government. He insisted that "the resources of the South Atlantic are the property of all the Argentines".
But the Foreign Office was defiant in response to his remarks, promising to "work closely" with any company affected to ensure the "practical implications for them are as few as possible".
A spokesperson said Argentine legislation does not apply to the Falklands and added: "Hydrocarbon exploration in the Falklands is a legitimate commercial venture.
"The British government supports the right of the Falkland Islanders to develop their own natural resources for their own economic benefit. This right is an integral part of their right of self-determination."
Tensions are rising as the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, which began on April 2nd 1982, looms.
Argentina has applied intense pressure on the Falkland Islanders by means short of military action in recent months.
It is pressuring the Chilean airline LAN to cancel its weekly flight between Punta Arenas and Port Stanley - which would mean its supplies would be limited to the twice-weekly 8,000-mile flight from London.
Falklands shipping has also been barred from entering ports of South American members of the trading bloc and arrangements for the joint conservation of fishing stocks have been abandoned.
Barry Elsby, a member of the Falklands' legislative assembly, told politics.co.uk that he believed a "war of attrition" was taking place.
"Argentina has taken a decision to try to apply economic pressure in the hope of changing our views," he said. "Our fundamental views remain unchanged."
The Foreign Office spokesperson added: Argentina's efforts to intimidate the Falklands are illegal, unbecoming and wholly counter-productive."
Yesterday prime minister David Cameron spoke out about the Falklands on the final day of his official visit to the US.
"I wanted to stress how important it is for Britain to set out how clearly we support the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future," he said.
"They want to remain with us and that is very clear... to me it is very important that we stick up for the right of self-determination."