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Front Page | In-depth | UK
Fight for the Falklands: Twenty years on
Introduction
My war story
Guide to the conflict

'I saw Sir Galahad burn'
Falklands map
My war story


Sir John Nott
Carlos Escude
Mark Shurben-Browne
Ruben Rada
Sir Rex Hunt
General Menendez
Jose Luis Ferreira
Bob Mullen
Augusto Bedacarratz
Mario Benjamin Menendez was commander of the occupying Argentinian troops and military governor of the Falklands. Here, speaking to BBC correspondent in Buenos Aires, Maximiliano Seitz, he remembers the conflict. He is, he says, sure he did the right thing.

On 2 April I was in Buenos Aires. I had an appointment at a cabinet meeting chaired by the chief of the junta, General Galtieri, who introduced me as the future Governor of the Malvinas Islands. He said that early that morning he had talked to President Reagan, who had said that MrsThatcher had been in touch with him, that she had news of what was coming and that, if she were put under pressure, she would apply more.

But there was no going back, because the first of the Argentine troops were approaching the coast of the Malvinas.

I got there on 4 April. It was an emotional moment when we saw the Malvinas from the air. When the plane touched down, and before getting off we sang the national anthem. Then we stepped on Malvinas soil - another emotional moment - because for Argentines, the sovereignty issue is something that starts at a very young age. I remember the comics I used to read when I was seven. There was a comic strip where someone had written graffiti saying 'The Malvinas are Argentinian'.

Argentina wanted to occupy in order to negotiate, and the forces that were to accompany me were not meant to be more than 500 men. But we did not foresee a war.

When General Galtieri said to me: 'If this operation goes ahead, you will become governor', I could have said no. But I said yes. Faced with this a soldier will say to himself: I stay and do my duty, or I go. I stayed.

Islanders

I remember their anxieties of the islanders. Water had to be rationed. Some worried about the future of their jobs, the health service. They criticised our decision to change to driving on the right instead of the left. We talked, there was a relationship, but as the British troops got nearer, we became distanced. When the Sea Harriers carried out low level attacks, you could see the locals were happy.

Our own troops said they were getting tired because of the awful conditions: damp, cold, lack of food. They were also exhausted, just waiting for the enemy. When you are defending and you haven't the initiative, it wears you down. So I would say to them: 'The British are getting very close... then everything will be over, for good or ill.'

I was short of munitions, I had no support from the air. I had to say enough. The day before the surrender, I had warned General Galtieri what might happen, but he didn't say anything, didn't do anything, didn't think.

Counterattack

On 14 June the worst was confirmed and I rang him again. He told me the British would also be tired and that I had to counterattack. I replied: 'Sir, I can see you don't understand what I'm saying: To go on resisting means more deaths and the same outcome: losing the war'. I'm convinced I did the right thing.

I used to think that in a traditional war, the dead were a statistic, that an officer would come up to you and tell you: there were 15 or 30 casualties. But I saw death at close quarters and I realised it wasn't like that at all.

To the relatives of the British troops who lost their lives, I would say we were convinced our cause was a just one. Death is always a painful thing. I was saddened by our losses and also I think by those of the other side. I think this war was more unjust than others because the British came from far away for a small piece of a colonial empire.

Respect

The British offered a ceasefire and I decided to accept at midday. I had been on my feet for more than 30 hours and I did something for which I was later criticised: I had a wash and a shave and combed my hair (high-ranking British officials attended the talks complete with battle stains). The talks lasted about an hour, and we were treated with respect.

I recall that I requested our flags of war be kept by Argentine units. They discussed it and it was approved. The British also agreed that officers could keep their hand guns as a symbol of command. Finally the agreement was signed which included the words 'unconditional surrender' and I asked for the word 'unconditional' to be removed. Signing was very difficult for me; and I did it. I asked myself: why did it have to be me?

I think the Malvinas remained very much a big part of my life. I was investigated, tried, strongly criticised for my part in the war. I felt that those of us who went to the Falklands were not appreciated or respected.