National Archives: How Britain covered up Argentine occupation of Falklands





David Owen, James Callaghan's Foreign Secretary, feared that revelations about what he accepted was a "violation of British sovereignty" on Southern Thule would derail talks between the two countries about the future control of the Falklands themselves.

In diplomatic language, he described the prospect of the islanders finding out about a large Argentine base on British territory to the south of them as a "complicating factor".

Mr Owen, now Lord Owen, made clear to his Argentine counterpart, Oscar Montes, in February 1978 that Britain wished to keep the base secret lest it become an "obstacle" to resolving the long-running dispute over sovereignty.

Argentine forces landed on Southern Thule - a barren, uninhabited dependency, more than 1,000 miles south of the islands - in late 1976 in a move mirroring the later occupation of South Georgia which preceded full invasion of the Falklands.

They set up an illegal "scientific" base manned by up to 50 "technicians" which remained until the defeat of Argentina in 1982.

Although the British Government soon knew of the incursion and quietly protested, it was kept secret until May 1978 when it was exposed by the media and eventually confirmed to Parliament.

But in February of that year, as important sovereignty talks were about to get under way in Lima, Peru, a British Antarctic Survey ship, the RRS Bransfield, came across the Argentines on Southern Thule.

Ministers were informed and it set in train a series of urgent messages between London and negotiators in Lima highlighting a possible plan to legitimise the base as a joint scientific station before it came to light.



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