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The British Are Coming, But Not All Falklanders Thrilled

March 14, 1988

STANLEY, Falkland Islands (AP) _ The prospect of British soldiers staging war games on the Falkland Islands is making some islanders a bit uneasy about upsetting Argentina, which still claims sovereignty over the tiny archipelago.

Less than a thousand troops are expected to be flown in Thursday for the military exercise, a test of how quickly Britain can respond to an island invasion.

Some islanders say they feel reassured by the 24-day drill, but others fear it unnecessarily provokes the Argentines, who lost the war with Britain over the islands in 1982.

″The situation between us and Argentina is so delicate that these exercises are bound to be a cause of trouble,″ said islander Nicola Colbert.

″I can understand there are excellent possibilities for training down here, but I feel the exercise is not a very good thing from the point of view of our relations with Argentina.″

But resident Claudette Ceballos supports the war games.

″I think the Argentines are being a bit silly,″ she said. ″They are overreacting, as they always do. If they hadn’t kicked up such a fuss, I probably wouldn’t have given the whole exercise a thought.″

George Betts, a boat captain, said Argentina has no say in the matter.

″This place is British, and what happens to it is the problem of the British and us,″ he said. ″It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Argentines.″

Argentina has led a chorus of Latin American protest against Operation Fire Focus, as the exercise is named. Britain has denied it is provoking Argentina.

But after initially refusing to say how many troops would be involved, Britain has sought to allay the objections by announcing that only a force of fewer than 1,000 soldiers would be flown in.

British authorities want to insulate the troops from the populace. Maj. Gen. Neil Carlier, commander of British forces on the islands, says contact will be kept to a minimum.

The settlers, however, will be asked to report sightings of soldiers who might be playing the enemy’s role during the exercise on the rocky, windswept islands, he told a news conference last week.

Carlier denied reports that farms would be used as targets of mock attacks, and said wildlife sanctuaries would be avoided.

Plans reportedly have been made for the half-dozen tourists presently on the islands to be fishing or bird-watching far from the action while Operation Fire Focus is under way.

The exercise technically began March 7, with mock intelligence reports being sent to London about enemy troop movements against the islands. It concludes March 31.

In 1982, when Argentina seized the islands, the absence of a runway capable of taking long-range aircraft meant Britain had to respond by sea. It took weeks for a naval task force to make the 8,000-mile voyage.

During that time the Argentines dug in, and were dislodged only after a 74- day war that claimed the lives of 712 Argentine and 258 British servicemen.

Britain has since spent $690 million on an airport in the islands that can accommodate troop flights in case of another attack.

Falklanders have grown used to the luxury of an airport that can get them directly to Britain, and there have been some grumblings at the disruptions travelers are likely to suffer during the exercise.

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