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The BBC's Stephen Cviic
"The sinking of the General Belgrano marked a turning point in the Falklands war"
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Jorge Oliveira, Lawyer representing the families
"The problem is not with the present British government but with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher"
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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
UK sued over Belgrano sinking
General Belgrano sinking off Falklands, May 1982
The sinking of the Belgrano was the turning point
Relatives of the 323 Argentine sailors who died in the sinking of the battleship General Belgrano in the Falkland Islands war are to sue the UK for damages.

Two Buenos Aires lawyers are set to present a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Tuesday, according to Reuters news agency.

The sinking of the Belgrano marked the turning point in the 10-week conflict in 1982 and represented the single largest loss of life amid the nearly 1,000 deaths in the war.

Tory shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "If the relatives feel such action is necessary that is a matter for them, but we must not forget that, at the time, Britain was at war with Argentina.

"The Belgrano was an enemy warship, posing a grave threat to British forces, and appropriate action was taken against it. Even the Argentine Defence Ministry, in a report in 1994, concluded that the Belgrano's fate was `a legal act of war'."

'Conventions violated'

Aldershot Conservative MP Gerald Howarth condemned the legal action as "utterly preposterous and absurd".

Mr Howarth, secretary of the Tories' defence committee, said: "If they feel they have the right to sue us, then the British Government should sue the Argentinian authorities for the injuries sustained to our troops."

The Argentine relatives argue that the cruiser was outside the theatre of operations, and therefore the attack violated wartime conventions set down in The Hague in 1907.

Gerald Howarth MP
Gerald Howarth MP: Said the case was "absurd"
The Belgrano was torpedoed on 2 May 1982 by the British submarine HMS Conqueror following the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands.

The 1,093 men on board went into the icy south Atlantic waters 36 nautical miles (58 km) outside the 200-mile exclusion zone around the Falklands.

The lawyers say the attack's sole purpose was to frustrate peace negotiations by then-Peruvian President Belaunde Terry.


The sinking of the ship was "outside of the 200-mile (322 km) exclusion zone" established by the British around the archipelago, said lawyer Jorge Antonio Olivera, who is handling the lawsuit with partner Jorge Humberto Appiani.

"We are seeking indemnity for all the deaths," Mr Olivera added.

Labour MP Tam Dalyell was one of a small group of backbench MPs who protested about the sinking at the time.

He declined to comment on the legal action, but added: "Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, did not want to be denied a military victory which was what the Falklands War was more about than helping the Falklanders."

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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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