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Friday, October 23, 1998 Published at 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK

World: Americas

Menem denies Falklands apology

President Menem: "A conflict that should never have happened"

Argentina's President Carlos Menem has denied that he apologised for the Falklands War during an interview with Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

John Andrew: "Conflict should never have happened"
Friday's edition of The Sun carried a banner headline: "Argentina says: We're sorry for Falklands."

But President Menem, who is due to visit the UK next week, told the BBC that what he said was that he "regretted" the war.

Speaking in Spanish, he said: "Saying sorry is something completely different. That is not the way I expressed it."

[ image: Carlos Menem: Still wants the Malvinas]
Carlos Menem: Still wants the Malvinas
The president also made clear that Argentina had not given up its claim to sovereignty over the islands, which are known in Buenos Aires as the Malvinas.

Sun sticks to its guns

But The Sun's editor David Yelland said: "I am stunned by the reports we're seeing from Argentina this morning.

The Sun's editor David Yelland, adamant that Mr Menem said: "Sorry".
"We have to be quite careful here because there is a lot at stake.

"But there is no doubt that this is an apology and this is the President of Argentina saying sorry," said Mr Yelland, who only took charge at The Sun in June.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Everybody involved in this very complicated negotiation to get this thing in the paper knew that the headline would be 'sorry'."

Mr Yelland said the interview had been facilitated by the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, Alastair Campbell, but he denied Mr Campbell had written the piece.

'Blot on our history'

Argentina's Ambassador to the UK, Rogelio Pfirter: "We regret the war"
In the article Mr Menem said the 1982 conflict was a "sad and traumatic blot in the history of our relations".

He added: "Some brave young Argentine and British soldiers lost their lives in a conflict that should never have happened and that we deeply regret."

Mr Menem, whose visit to the UK will be the first by an Argentinian head of state since the war, said his country would never again try to take the Falklands by force.

Former soldier Simon Weston, who suffered horrific burns during the war: "He can't apologise for something he had no hand in."
BBC Diplomatic Correspondent James Robbins says Mr Menem has used similar language about the invasion before.

Followed success of Japan apology

Earlier this year the Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto used the columns of The Sun to express regret for his country's treatment of World War II British prisoners of war.

A Downing Street spokesman said following the success of that article The Sun asked Mr Campbell to approach the Argentine Government for an article from President Menem.

Joyce Quin, Minister for Europe, said President Menem's article was "a sign that the current Argentinian government is very different from the government that was in power at the time of the Falklands War".

A paper with few friends in Argentina

[ image: Lady Thatcher: Recaptured the Falklands]
Lady Thatcher: Recaptured the Falklands
The Sun, which sells more than three million copies a day, took a belligerent and jingoistic line during the Falklands War.

It hailed the sinking of the Argentinian destroyer General Belgrano - with the loss of several hundred lives - with the headline "Gotcha!".

Correspondents say the fact Mr Menem agreed to write for that particular newspaper shows how much relations between the two countries have improved in recent years.

Whether the tone of The Sun's article has damaged that relationship will become clear in the next few days.

Baroness Thatcher, Britain's Prime Minister during the war, said the UK should not have arrested General Augusto Pinochet, an ally during the Falklands conflict, while welcoming the representative of a former enemy.

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