UK minister in surprise Falklands visit

By Ian Dunt

The first UK minister to visit the Falklands since tensions escalated will land later today, in a surprise visit likely to further upset Buenos Aires.

Universities minister David Willetts will stop off at the islands en route to the Antarctic, where he is reviewing work being conducted by British scientists.

"What matters is the right of self-determination of the people in the Falklands," he told the Times.

"They made it very clear they wish to remain British and this should be seen as part of Britain's historic links to the south Atlantic and the Antarctic."

The visit comes amid heightened tension in the region due to the upcoming 30th anniversary of the conflict and renewed efforts by Argentina to get the issue back on the international agenda.

Yesterday, the defence select committee confirmed it would visit the islands. Argentina is still angry at the deployment of Prince William on search-and-rescue duty and the use of HMS Dauntless, which is replacing another destroyer on patrol.

Mr Willett's is expected to meet governor Nigel Haywood during the visit.

His arrival comes after Hollywood actor Sean Penn branded Britain "colonialist" for its ownership of the islands.

"My oh my, aren't people sensitive to the word colonialism, particularly those who implement colonialism," he said.

"It's unthinkable that the United Kingdom can make a conscious decision to deploy a prince within the military to the Malvinas, knowing the great emotional sensitivity both of mothers and fathers in the United Kingdom and in Argentina who lost sons and daughters in a war of islands with a population of so few."