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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
Belgrano legal action fails
General Belgrano sinking off Falklands, May 1982
The sinking of the Belgrano was the turning point
An attempt to take the British Government to court over the sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands war has failed.

Belgrano sinking
Belgrano appeared to be steaming towards Royal Navy Task Force
British officers say they believed this posed a risk
The ship was outside exclusion zone
Margaret Thatcher took decision to torpedo the ship
Before the attack, the Belgrano changed course, possibly to head towards Argentine mainland
Human Rights Court judges in Strasbourg declared inadmissible an application from lawyers representing families of the 323 Argentinian sailors who died when the vessel was torpedoed by a British submarine.

Sitting as a committee of three judges, the Strasbourg court rejected the application by Luisa Diamantina Romero de Ibanez and Roberto Guillermo Rojas on the grounds that it had been submitted too late.

The families' lawyers had claimed that, as the Belgrano was attacked outside the UK-imposed exclusion zone, unlawful force was used when it was sunk in 1982.

They acknowledged the move was designed to put pressure on the Argentine Government to take its own case against the UK to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The Belgrano was torpedoed on 2 May 1982 by the British submarine HMS Conqueror, following the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.

It represented the single largest loss of life in the 10-week conflict.

The failed legal case maintained that the sinking was deliberately designed to undermine peace negotiations mediated by then Peruvian President Belaunde Terry.

Almost a decade after Argentina lost the Falklands conflict, the two countries restored diplomatic relations, although Argentina still maintains its claims to the South Atlantic Islands, which it calls the Malvinas.

Buenos Aires says it inherited the islands, populated by about 2,200 people of mostly British ancestry, from the Spanish crown before they were occupied by the UK in 1833.

'Dangerous precedent'

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that "common sense" had prevailed, but added that the case should never have reached court.

"It sets a dangerous precedent for Britain if an international court can claim to pass judgment over legitimate acts in times of conflict," he said.

"While we have every sympathy with those Argentinians who lost loved ones, the sinking of the Belgrano - as even the Argentinian government has admitted - was a legitimate act of war."

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See also:

23 Oct 98 | Americas
Menem denies Falklands apology
29 Oct 98 | Education
Understanding Argentina
08 Jan 99 | 1968 Secret History
UK planned to give Falklands to Argentina
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