Confusion as Argentina demands more flights to Falklands

By Ian Dunt

Diplomats were stumped last night after Argentina demanded Britain increase flights to the Falklands from two to three times a week.

President Cristina Kirchner said she had instructed foreign minister Hector Timerman to renegotiate a 1998 agreement allowing two flights from Chile to the Falklands, with stops in Rio Gallegos, Argentina.

The announcement confused islanders and British diplomats, who had expected more draconian measures to prevent flights, after Buenos Aires put pressure on Chilean airliner Lan to cancel its weekly flight between Punta Arenas and Port Stanley.

Experts presumed Argentina was planning a de-facto economic blockade of the islands in a bid to cut off inhabitants from the outside world.

Apart from the Chilean schedule, islanders can only rely on monthly military flights from Britain which stop in Ascension Island, a small British-owned island in the Atlantic.

The move could be an attempt to ease visits for bereaved families of Argentineans killed in the conflict.

But analysts will be interested by President Kirchner's demand that only Argentinean aircraft carriers are used, particularly after industry minister Debora Giorgi demanded senior Argentinean officials and companies find alternatives to British exports.

That move came a day after two British cruise ships were denied the opportunity to dock in Argentina after visiting the Falklands. That move suggested a new economic approach to the disputed territory was underway, going hand-in-hand with efforts at an international consensus for new talks on sovereignty.

Tensions have been raised in the run up to the 30th anniversary of the conflict.