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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:18 GMT
Thatcher rejects Falklands trip
Margaret and Denis Thatcher
The Thatchers pay their respects on a previous visit
Lady Thatcher has turned down an invitation to visit the Falklands to mark the 20th anniversary of the battle to recapture the islands.

I feel that the journey, which would be far too gruelling even for me, would be far too much for Denis

Lady Thatcher

The former prime minister said the 7,800 mile journey would be "too gruelling" for her husband Denis, who is 86-years-old.

Lady Thatcher's refusal has been described as "very disappointing", by Falklands governor Donald Lamont.

The Falklands conflict is seen by some as Lady Thatcher's finest hour and she is still held in high regard by islanders.

'Fit and well'

Mark Worthington, Lady Thatcher's press spokesman, said: "Sir Denis is perfectly well for an 86-year-old, but in the end one has to be sensible about these things.

"It was thought it would be too strenuous to go down to the Falkland Islands for four days.

"It is an 18 hour flight and it is not even like flying in a commercial aircraft."

Sir Denis did not want Lady Thatcher to go without him, Mr Worthington told BBC News Online.

"She herself is very disappointed, but it is a sensible precaution," he added.

'Too gruelling'

Lady Thatcher, who is 76, had been invited to make the 18-hour flight for Thatcher Day on 10 January, which commemorates her first visit, following Britain's defeat of the Argentine invasion force.

Falkland Islands
The Falklands remain a British dependency
She suffered a minor stroke at the New Year, although she is understood to have already made the decision not to attend.

In a letter to the South Atlantic island's governor, she said: "Though I am still fit and well, I feel that the journey, which would be far too gruelling even for me, would be far too much for Denis and I know that he would not wish me to go without him."

Lady Thatcher last visited the Falklands in June 1992.

Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram will attend an official commemoration ceremony in June.

The Duke of York, who took part in the war as a helicopter pilot, is also due to visit, in November.

Secret information

Meanwhile, Britain's defence minister during the 1982 conflict, John Nott, has named France as Britain's "greatest ally" in the days following Argentina's invasion.

In an extracts from his memoirs, published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Sir John said Paris provided secret information allowing British agents to sabotage Exocet missiles which Argentina wanted to buy.

France also made available to Britain examples of Super-Etendard and Mirage aircraft, which it had sold to Argentina, so British fighter pilots could use them for training.

American attitude

Sir John contrasted the French attitude with that of the Americans under then president Ronald Reagan.

Sometimes I wondered if he even knew or cared where Europe was

John Nott on Ronald Reagan
Despite their "special relationship", Washington pressed for a compromise peace deal over the British territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean, off the Argentine coast.

Although Mrs Thatcher, as she was then known, had often clashed with French president Francois Mitterrand, he came to Britain's aid immediately.

"In so many ways Mitterrand and the French were our greatest allies," Sir John said.

Reagan friendship

British agents posed as arms buyers on the international market, outbidding the Argentinians for Exocets, while others "covertly rendered them inoperable, on information supplied by the French".

On Lady Thatcher's friendship with President Reagan, Sir John said "he remained a West Coast American looking south to Latin America and west to the Pacific.

"Sometimes I wondered if he even knew or cared where Europe was."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon made a flying visit to the Falklands on Monday, where he laid a wreath at a battle memorial.

He reassured islanders that the British government remained "absolutely committed to their right to self-determination".

See also:

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