British rig 'to start drilling off the Falklands'

LONDON: A British oil rig starts drilling off the Falklands on Monday, a move likely to ratchet up tensions with Argentina which claims the disputed islands, the BBC reported, citing the oil company.

The platform has been towed to 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the islands and drilling will start at 0600 GMT, said the broadcaster.

There are an estimated 60 billion barrels of oil in the Falklands but a spokesman for Desire Petroleum, which is carrying out the drilling, said the amount that could be used commercially would likely be much less than that.

Argentina lost a short but bloody war to Britain over the south Atlantic archipelago in 1982, which cost around 1,000 lives.

Buenos Aires is now furious that the British are about to begin oil drilling operations in the potentially rich seabed around the archipelago.

Argentina escalated the row last week by ordering all ships heading to the Falklands through its waters to first seek permission from Buenos Aires before appealing to other regional powers to follow suit.

Argentina won backing from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday, who urged Britain to give up the Falklands and said "the time for empires is over."

Desire Petroleum insisted on Monday their interest was purely in oil and sought to distance themselves from the growing row between London and Buenos Aires.

"Desire is an oil company and it's exploring for oil and not getting involved in what Argentina is saying about going to the UN. The rig is sitting firmly inside (British) waters," spokesman David Willie told the BBC.

The oil rig, the Ocean Guardian, has been towed thousands of miles from Scotland.

Argentina says Britain, a UN Security Council member, is skirting UN resolutions calling for dialogue on the dispute. It says UN resolutions recognize the territorial dispute and urge dialogue to settle it.

Britain in January rejected Argentina's latest claim to the islands, which it has held and occupied since 1833.

The two countries' rival claims of ownership over the Falklands exploded into war in 1982 after Argentine military rulers seized the islands, only to be defeated and expelled by a British naval force.

The conflict lasted 74 days and cost the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers and 255 from Britain.

The Falkland Islands, known as Las Malvinas in the Spanish-speaking world, lie 450 kilometres (280 miles) off Argentina's southern coast.

Argentina says its territorial waters extend well beyond the archipelago, to the edge of the underwater continental shelf more than 2,000 kilometres away.