Falkland Islanders, vets recall Argentina's surrender

Saturday, June 15, 2002

STANLEY, Falkland Islands -- Several hundred Falkland Islanders and Britain's military veterans remembered their dead Friday, 20 years after Britain routed Argentina in a war that kept this remote South Atlantic archipelago British and embittered toward its nearest neighbor.

"Some of us still have to learn to forget, to let go of the old hatreds and bitterness that we hold against Argentina," the Rev. Alistair McHaffie told worshippers inside a packed Christ Church Cathedral in Stanley for Liberation Day, which featured a fixed-bayonet procession by the army garrison along the capital's sleet-swept harborside.

These annual commemorations recall June 14, 1982, the climax of Britain's 78-day war with Argentina over the Falklands, which Argentines claim and call the Malvinas. On that day, British troops marched into Stanley to accept the surrender of 12,000 hungry, ailing Argentine troops who dumped their rifles by the water.

The British suffered 255 dead, including three islanders, while Argentina lost 712 soldiers, sailors and pilots in a test of wills between Argentina's military dictatorship and Britain's "iron lady," former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher met Friday with Falklands veterans aboard the Queen Elizabeth II, docked at the port of Southampton, 70 miles southwest of London. The luxury liner formed the rear guard of a Royal Navy flotilla that ferried soldiers on the 8,000-mile journey to the Falklands -- an expedition Argentina didn't expect and seemed a throwback to Britain's imperial past.

'Total camaraderie'

For the veterans, memories of their achievements and losses have come flooding back as they retrace their battles on a treeless, snow-covered landscape.

"We're remembering the sense of total camaraderie we had, and the friends who never walked down from that hill," said Sgt. Paddy Johnson, whose Royal Marine Commando company lost five men in a three-hour firefight for a rocky ridge west of Stanley.

Britain invited no Argentine representatives to Friday's events in the Falklands. On April 2, the 20th anniversary of Argentina's invasion, President Eduardo Duhalde said Argentina would one day reclaim the Falklands through diplomacy.

The islands' 2,400 citizens, largely descendants of 19th-century English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh settlers, spent the 1982 war either under armed guard in Stanley or on farms outside the city. They remember the invasion with anger, but have some sympathy for the Argentines.

"A lot of the Argentine soldiers were absolutely amazed we didn't speak Spanish. They didn't understand we were British and thought they were liberating us," recalled Lisa Riddell, who was 11 during the war.

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