2012: CNN Explains: Falkland Islands
02:55 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: A spokesman says Argentina has not yet filed a protest with the United Nations

The UK Foreign Office says Falkland Islands residents are British by choice

Britain won the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands

Argentina still claims the territory, which it calls the Malvinas

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands CNN  — 

Britain on Wednesday dismissed a complaint from Argentina about the “militarization of the South Atlantic” as tensions rise regarding the Falkland Islands, over which the two countries fought a war 30 years ago.

“The people of the Falkland Islands are British out of choice,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement. “They are free to determine their own future, and there will be no negotiations with Argentina on sovereignty unless the Islanders wish it.”

It was responding to a warning from Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner that her country would file a protest at the United Nations.

“I have instructed our chancellor to formally present before the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly this militarization of the South Atlantic, which implies a great risk for international safety,” she said during a speech in Buenos Aires.

“We’re going to file a protest,” Fernandez said.

No protest had been filed as of Wednesday afternoon, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Speculation in recent days had been that she would cut the Falklands air link to the South American mainland by banning the airline LAN Chile from using Argentinian airspace to fly to the islands from Chile. The Saturday flights are the only scheduled air service to the Falklands and carry fresh food as well as passengers.

The president made no such announcement in her speech Tuesday.

Why tensions are flaring over Falklands

Argentina already bans Falklands ships from its ports, an action joined by other South American and Caribbean nations.

“I guess we were all kind of relieved that there wasn’t anything particularly concrete. It seems to be another burst of hot air really – and to that degree – we’re relieved,” said John Fowler, a journalist and Falkland Islands resident.

Britain and Argentina fought a war over the Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas, in 1982. Though Britain won the war, expelling an Argentinian military force, Argentina claims the territory, which has been under British rule since 1833, as its own. Britain maintains that the 2,500 residents of the Falklands have the right to determine their allegiance, and so far that has been staunchly British.

“The UK has no doubt about our sovereignty over the Falklands. The principle of self-determination, as set out in the U.N. Charter, underlies our position,” the Foreign Office said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said residents have a right to decide.

“We support the Falklands’ right to self-determination, and what the Argentinians have been saying recently I would argue is actually far more like colonialism, because these people want to remain British, and the Argentinians want them to do something else.”

Addressing Cameron directly in her speech, Fernandez said: “I simply want to ask the prime minister of England to give peace a chance.”

Tensions between London and Buenos Aires were raised even higher this month when Britain sent Prince William to the Falklands as a military helicopter pilot.

The prince’s deployment comes as Britain is making other moves to support its 1,700 personnel at the Mount Pleasant military complex in the Falklands.

“We are having what in game theory is called tit-for-tat … I don’t see an end in sight right now, but I’m sure that war is not the end,” Federico Merke, a professor of international relations at San Andres University, said after the president’s speech.

So why, besides supporting the Falklands’ inhabitants, does Britain want to hang on to the islands? The answer may lie in the lucrative fishing grounds around the islands as well as a growing oil drilling industry.

Argentina, of course, has economic interests as well, but analysts say the current standoff has much to do with internal politics.

“The government is being squeezed from lots of different areas, so one way to distract from the economic problems facing the country is to raise the Malvinas issue,” said Mark Jones, an expert in Latin American politics at Rice University in Texas. “It’s one of the few issues outside football that you can get universal consensus on.”

CNN’s David Wilkinson, Dan Rivers, Brad Lendon and Richard Roth contributed to this report.