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Falklands lawmakers: 'We have no desire to be governed by Argentina'

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
March 25, 2013 -- Updated 2003 GMT (0403 HKT)
Falkland Islanders take part in the
Falkland Islanders take part in the "Proud to be British" parade along Ross Road in Port Stanley on March 10.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lawmakers: "The more Argentina presses...the harder will be our resolve"
  • "We have no desire to be governed by Argentina," Falklands lawmakers say
  • Argentina says a referendum earlier this month was invalid
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron praised the vote

(CNN) -- Falkland Islands lawmakers say they won't back down in the face of Argentina's efforts to claim the South Atlantic territory.

Residents of the islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas, voted earlier this month to remain under British rule. That leaves no room for debate, lawmakers from the islands wrote in a letter to the United Nations published online Monday.

"The referendum result makes it clear that we have no desire to be governed by Argentina," they wrote. "Continued harassment of our economic development and intimidation of those who want to do business with us and invest in the islands will not change this fact. The more Argentina presses our small community, the harder will be our resolve."

Argentina's president calls Falklands vote 'parody'

Argentina still fighting for Falklands
2012: CNN Explains: Falkland Islands

But Argentina's top officials and supporters in many Latin American countries have a different take. They argue that the referendum was invalid and have decried the United Kingdom for pushing a colonialist approach onto the territory.

"It is as if a consortium of occupiers had voted on whether to continue illegally occupying a building," Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said earlier this month. "The results were fixed."

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and other Latin American leaders are scheduled to meet Tuesday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other U.N. officials over the matter.

The meetings have drawn the ire of the Falkland Islands government.

"Mr. Timerman's frantic efforts to lobby the international community to ignore our voice strikes us here as the diplomacy of desperation," Falkland Islands Assembly member Gavin Short said in a written statement.

The islands, which raise their own taxes but rely on the United Kingdom for defense and foreign policy, are one of 14 British Overseas Territories and have been under British rule since 1833.

Falkland Islanders vote to stay British

The two countries went to war over the territory in 1982 after the then-military government in Argentina landed troops on the islands. Argentina put its death toll from the conflict at around 645. Britain says its civil and military losses amounted to 255.

For more than a year, renewed rhetoric between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the islands has escalated to a fever pitch, with both sides accusing each other of colonialism.

Prince William's military deployment to the islands last year further fueled tensions, drawing sharp criticism from Argentinian officials.

The British government accuses Argentina of trying to coerce island residents by intimidating those involved in fishing and oil exploration and trying to isolate the remote islands by limiting access by sea.

Located about 480 kilometers (298 miles) east of the tip of South America, the Falklands have long been coveted as a strategic shipping stopover and potential wellspring of natural resources, including lucrative fisheries and a growing oil drilling industry.

About 1,600 people were eligible to vote in the referendum earlier this month, officials said.

Asked whether they wanted to remain a British Overseas Territory, more than 99% of Falkland Islands voters who cast ballots said yes, according to a government spokesman. Just three people voted no, spokesman Darren Christie said.

Pictures at the polls showed some residents of the islands draped in Union flags as they cast their votes. Cars displayed banners that read, "We're British and proud." A parade honoring British heritage marked the start of voting Sunday.

The vote drew praise from British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"It's the clearest possible result there could be," he said, "and the fact is that the Falkland Islands may be thousands of miles away, but they are British through and through, and that is how they want to stay."

CNN's Dana Ford and Laura Smith-Spark and journalist Ivan Perez Sarmenti contributed to this report.

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