Falklands Oil Exploration: Argentina To Sue Companies Over 'Illegal' Drilling
* Rockhopper, Borders & Southern among companies affected
* Argentina says aim is to get UK into sovereignty talks
* UK says it supports islanders' right to develop oil sector
By Juliana Castilla
BUENOS AIRES, March 15 (Reuters) - Argentina will take legal action at home and abroad against any companies involved in oil exploration off the Falkland Islands, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said on Thursday.
Thirty years after it repelled an Argentine invasion of the Falklands, Britain has vowed to defend the archipelago, saying it will negotiate sovereignty or oil rights only if the 3,000 islanders want that.
Argentina says Britain is flouting U.N. resolutions that call for talks and prohibit any unilateral action as long as the sovereignty dispute persists. Timerman said offshore oil exploration amounts to a unilateral move.
At a news conference in Buenos Aires, the minister called the exploration and drilling activities "illegal". He said Argentina will bring civil and criminal charges to sanction the companies involved.
"With these actions we assume the responsibility of defending Argentina's natural resources," Timerman said. "The South Atlantic's oil and gas are property of the Argentine people."
Britain reacted by saying it supported the rights of Falkland islanders to exploit their oil reserves. This was an "integral part of the right of self-determination", a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
Several companies have drilled in waters off the islands. British explorer Rockhopper has been seeking a partner to invest in the $2 billion Sea Lion project.
Borders & Southern and Falkland Oil & Gas are set to drill wells south of the islands this year.
An industry source in London said legal action against companies involved in Falklands oil exploration "will have no impact on Rockhopper's operations as they look to develop the Sea Lion project".
Borders & Southern declined to comment.
Timerman said companies providing logistical and financial support to the search for Falklands oil will be included in the suits, along with the Ocean Guardian and Leiv Eiriksson drilling platforms.
"Argentina understands that without the participation of many other actors, these illegitimate activities cannot be carried out," Timerman said.
Falkland residents, known as "Kelpers", show no signs of wanting to break with Britain. In Spanish, the islands are known as Las Malvinas.
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