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Donald Lamont, Falklands governor
"An exciting and a positive development"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 March, 2001, 11:36 GMT
'No threat' to Falklands defence
British troops raise the Union Flag in the Falklands, 1982
Britain and Argentina fought a war over South Georgia and the Falklands
The governor of the Falkland Islands has denied the withdrawal of British troops from South Georgia in the South Atlantic shows a lack of political will to defend the territory.

A small military detachment of just over 20 personnel will be withdrawn next week and replaced with a new scientific research station.

But some locals fear the withdrawal will be the start of a "slippery slope" which could send the wrong messages to Argentina.

map of south georgia and antarctica
The Falklands are 800 miles away
South Georgia is a virtually uninhabited island, whose invasion by Argentina in 1982 was the first act of the Falklands War.

'Warmly welcomed'

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Falklands governor Donald Lamont said the departure of the troops, which was first announced in 1998, was not a cause for concern.

Just over 20 personnel, mostly engineers, are currently stationed there.

He said the new research base, run by the British Antarctic Survey, would instead demonstrate a strengthening British presence in the area.

If they start pulling forces out, where will it end?

Philip Miller
South Georgia farmer
Mr Lamont said: "The establishment of this new scientific base is a significant move and has been warmly welcomed by the people down here in the Falklands.

"The tiny civilian community on South Georgia will be enhanced by the scientists who will be working there.

"The commander of British forces in the Falklands remains responsible for the security of South Georgia with all the assets and personnel at his disposal.

"The political situation and the activity that we are introducing with the new scientific community make the withdrawal make sense."

'Wrong message'

But not everyone shared the governor's optimism about the withdrawal.

South Georgia farmer Philip Miller told the programme: "If they start pulling forces out, where will it end? My worry is that it's the slippery slope.

"If they start pulling them out of the Falklands, it might send the wrong sort of messages to Argentina."

Argentine forces occupied South Georgia for three weeks after they landed there in 1982.

Argentina still claims South Georgia and the Falkland Islands - known to it as Las Malvinas.

But the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason said the withdrawal of the small garrison was a sign of the good relations which now exist between Argentina and Britain.

The 2,000-strong force on the Falkland Islands, 800 miles away, will keep responsibility for the safety of South Georgia and the neighbouring South Sandwich Islands.

There will be regular air and sea patrols to check the security situation on South Georgia.

The British Antarctic Survey team will carry out environmental research to help the development of sustainable fishing in and around South Georgia.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Americas
Belgrano legal action starts
16 Oct 99 | Americas
Historic flight to Falklands
15 Aug 99 | Americas
Falkland islanders stage protest
08 Jan 99 | 1968 Secret History
UK planned to give Falklands to Argentina
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