LONDON: Falkland Islanders will be asked specifically whether they want the archipelago to retain it status as a British overseas territory in a referendum on Mar 10 and 11, its government announced.
Confirming the date and the final wording of the question, the referendum is intended at sending Argentina an unambiguous verdict from the 3,000-odd islanders, amid tension between London and Buenos Aires over sovereignty.
Britain has held the South Atlantic Ocean islands since 1833 but Buenos Aires claims they are occupied Argentinian territory.
“The result will demonstrate in a clear, democratic and incontestable way how the people of the Falkland Islands wish to live their lives,” the islands' government said in a statement.
“To that end, the Falkland Islands government has consulted widely to identify a credible, international and independent observer mission to observe the referendum in order to clearly demonstrate that it has been held freely and fairly.”
The referendum question will read: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?
“YES or NO”.
The ballot paper will also be accompanied by a pre-amble.
“The current political status of the Falkland Islands is that they are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom,” it reads.
“The islands are internally self-governing, with the United Kingdom being responsible for matters including defence and foreign affairs.”
“Under the Falkland Islands constitution the people of the Falkland Islands have the right to self-determination, which they can exercise at any time.
“Given that Argentina is calling for negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, this referendum is being undertaken to consult the people regarding their views on the political status of the Falkland Islands.
“Should the majority of votes cast be against the current status, the Falkland Islands government will undertake necessary consultation and preparatory work in order to conduct a further referendum on alternative options.”
A four-page booklet has also been issued explaining the referendum and what the vote means.
Diplomatic friction between Argentina and Britain has intensified since 2010, when London authorised oil prospecting in the waters around the islands.
On April 2, 1982, the then ruling junta in Argentina invaded the Falklands, sparking a 74-day war with Britain which cost the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British troops.
Britain has around 1,000 military personnel on the Falklands to ensure their security.
The Sunday Telegraph newspaper claimed last weekend that British defence officials had prepared plans for dealing with aggressive action by Argentina towards the islands in the event of a “yes” vote.
Military chiefs have drawn up proposals for the deployment of extra troops, another warship and additional jets ahead of the referendum, the broadsheet said.