Feeling is running high in both Argentina and Chile about the ownership of three islands in the Beagle Channel, at the tip of the American continent, just north of Cape Horn.
Feeling is running high in both Argentina and Chile about the ownership of three islands in the Beagle Channel, at the tip of the American continent, just north of Cape Horn. Under a 19th-century treaty, the two countries had asked Britain to arbitrate. Last May, the arbitration tribunal, after consulting the International Court of Justice, gave its decision: the islands belonged to Chile. Chile has accepted the award. Argentina has until February 2nd to do so, but has given a clear sign, in a newspaper interview by the Foreign Minister, that she will reject it.
SYNOPSIS: It is in Argentina, which feels itself to be on the losing side, that public opinion has been aroused the most strongly. The government fears it will be criticised abroad if it rejects the findings of an agreed arbitration tribunal; but with the armed forces and the people in a militant mood, it may find it has no option.
Last month, efforts began to find a compromise. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries met first, and now the military leaders. General Videla of Argentina and General Pinochet of Chile, are meeting to discuss it. So far, there has been no acceptable settlement. The Navy, which has a powerful voice in argentina, is particularly critical of anything which it regards as an infringement of national sovereignty. It has just sent a substantial fleet to carry out exercises in the South Atlantic.
The dispute about the Beagle Channel has been going on for many years. The islands to the south of it are windswept, inhospitable lands. The three in dispute are inhabited by a handful of sheepfarmers. Their significance stems from the fact that both Argentina and Chile recognise a 370 Kilometre (200 mile) limit for territorial waters. The islands are at the eastern, Atlantic, end of the Channel, and if chile establishes her right to them, it could deprive Argentina of control over access to this end of the Channel, and to her bases in the Antarctic and valuable oil and fishing resources. Both countries have kept naval patrols operating in the Channel. This has led to occasional incidents, with mutual complaints about dangerous and provocative manoeuvres and infringement of territorial waters.
The setting for one of these incidents, as a Chilean patrol boat comes scorching past a transport ship of the Argentine Navy. Chile has warned Argentina against any attempt to challenge its claim to the disputed islands by naval activity. But the Argentine Foreign Ministry has said that the fleet now in the South Atlantic has made no move to enter the Beagle Channel, or any of the area around it.