London: A British oil exploration company said on Monday it began drilling near the Falkland Islands, a development that could worsen tensions between Britain and Argentina, which fought a war over the disputed islands in 1982.
Desire Petroleum PLC said it started drilling for oil about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the disputed Falkland Islands, despite strong opposition from Argentina. The country claims the south Atlantic islands as its own and calls them Las Malvinas.
"The well is being drilled to an estimated target depth of circa 3,500 meters (11,500 feet)," the company said in a statement. "Drilling operations are expected to take approximately 30 days."
Argentina lost a seven-week war over the islands to Britain in 1982 and the two countries have since pledged to resolve their differences peacefully. But moves to begin exploiting what could be lucrative reserves of oil and gas around the islands have sent tensions soaring.
The dispute over the Falklands dates back to the 19th century, when the islands were seized by the British. Argentina has sought their return ever since, invading in April 1982 and holding them until June, when British forces retook the territory.
Full diplomatic relations were restored in 1990 and both sides have since largely agreed to disagree on the issue of sovereignty. But anger over the issue still lingers and has been exacerbated by the prospect that Argentina could lose out on mineral wealth discovered offshore.
As the drilling platform made its way to the islands, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez decreed that any ship travelling to or from the islands must get prior permission from her country — a requirement Britain told captains to ignore. The Latin American nation is taking the diplomatic offensive; lobbying countries at the Rio Group summit in Cancun next week to condemn what he called Britain`s "unilateral and illegal" exploration in the islands and urge Britain to sit down for sovereignty talks.
Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana then plans an audience with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, seeking help to pressure Britain to follow UN resolutions urging both countries to negotiate their competing claims.
One estimate has put the amount of oil beneath the seabed around the Falklands at 60 billion barrels, something Robert Munks, Americas analyst with IHS Jane`s, said was on par with world-class oil fields.