BUENOS AIRES -- All but three voters in the Falkland Islands, the rugged South Atlantic archipelago 310 miles from Argentina, cast referendum ballots in favor of maintaining British rule, officials said late Monday. Argentina, which claims the islands and tried to take them by force in 1982, dismissed the referendum as a meaningless stunt.
About 92 percent of the 1,649 registered voters cast ballots on Sunday and Monday to answer a single question: Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?
"It's good that the islanders could make themselves heard, but this referendum doesn't carry any international legitimacy," said Guillermo Carmona, an Argentine legislator who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the lower house of Parliament.
Argentina says that Britain illegally took the islands, which it calls the Malvinas, in 1833 and implanted a colonist population there. Argentina's claim is widely supported by other Latin American states, as well as China and Russia, which reject a right of self-determination for the islanders.
Britain traces its claim on the islands to 1592, when they were charted by the English sea captain John Davis. Argentine forces invaded the islands in 1982, but were defeated in a 74-day war that cost the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentine troops and 3 civilians.
The referendum, held by the islands' legislative assembly, was meant to demonstrate that the population wanted to remain under British rule. "There is a greater chance of Argentina planting a flag on the moon than on the Falklands," said Dick Sawle, a member of the assembly.
Argentina also lays claim to South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, which are virtually unpopulated, though the British Antarctic Survey maintains several research stations on them. Sovereignty over the island groups carries with it valuable fishing and mineral rights. Rockhopper, a British company, plans to begin producing oil from an offshore field near the Falklands by 2017.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.