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Pope meets Argentine Falkland vets, relatives of dead

May raise issue with Queen, Argentine press says

19 March, 13:12
Pope meets Argentine Falkland vets, relatives of dead (ANSA) - Vatican City, March 19 - Pope Francis on Wednesday met with Argentine veterans and relatives of dead soldiers from the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, a British territory claimed by his home country as the Islas Malvinas.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis frequently backed Argentinian dominion over the Falklands, describing them as part of Argentina's homeland. He presided over religious ceremonies commemorating his countrymen's servicemen who died in the war following the junta's invasion of the islands.

Three days after he was elected pope on March 13 last year, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner asked him to facilitate a dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom on the islands' sovereignty.

Kirchner also visited the pope earlier this week but the Vatican said nothing about possible papal intervention, echoing its silence a year ago.

However, the Argentine media are speculating that Francis may bring the issue up when Queen Elizabeth II visits Rome and the Vatican on April 3. At Wednesday's general audience the pope chatted with members of the Argentine contingent, had his photograph taken with them, and signed one of their posters repeating the sovereignty claim and recalling the soldiers who died for it.

British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the issue two days after Francis became the first Latin American pope following the shock abdication of Benedict XVI. "The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear", he said, dismissing the pontiff's past claims backing Argentinian ownership of the South Atlantic islands.

"I don't agree with him, respectfully, obviously," Cameron said when asked about Pope Francis's views on the Falklands.

In a referendum in the Falklands last year a total of three voted not to remain under the British, the tiniest minority among more than 1,500 who said the islands should remain a Crown overseas territory.

"There was a pretty extraordinarily clear referendum in the Falkland Islands," said the prime minister, "and I think that is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands have chosen very clearly the future they want and that choice should be respected by everyone".

On the 30th anniversary of the two-month war at a mass in Buenos Aires in June 2012, then archbishop Jorge Bergoglio said the Argentinian forces who died following the invasion "went out to defend their mother, the homeland, to reclaim what is theirs". He described the British re-conquest under the Thatcher government as "usurpation".