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Falklanders feel betrayed by British protectors

Prior to the Argentine invasion, this capital and only town here was a living replica of a 19th-century Scottish fishing village.

Its neat rows of red-tile-roofed houses, heated by burning peat dug from nearby bogs, stretched up the treeless hill overlooking the small harbor.

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Portraits of the royal family adorned most interior walls, and placards proclaiming ''God save the Queen'' and ''Keep the Falklands British'' were prominent in front-room windows.

The 1,800 British-stock inhabitants, known locally as Kelpers because of the extensive kelp beds surrounding the islands, even referred to the United Kingdom as ''home'' and were often described by amazed visitors as being ''more British than the British.''

Oddly, as the English armada hastens toward the Falklands, ostensibly to ensure those die-hard loyalists of their British way of life, most Kelpers, as dependency citizens, are not immediately eligible for permanent residency in Britain unless their paternal grandfather or parents were born there.

The 1981 British Nationality Act (which goes into effect in January 1983 but is only an extension of a 1948 bill) denies Kelpers the ''right of abode'' in the mother country unless they receive ''special clearance.'' Falklanders are angry about the law; in fact, they are angry about many aspects of their relations with Britain. The Nationality Act is just one of a series of complicated and disappointing episodes in island relations with English administrations.

The Kelpers also felt betrayed by the 1972 and 1974 agreements between Argentina and England making them dependent on Argentine fuel and air services. They were shaken when Nicholas Ridley, then Britain's minister of state for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, tacitly approved a lease-back arrangement with their South American adversary.

Despite publicly insisting, as it still does, that the Falklands would remain in British hands until the Kelpers requested another arrangement, Whitehall sent Ridley to the islands in November 1980 to explain a plan under which Argentina would acquire sovereignty and England would lease back the islands and govern it , similar to the status of Hong Kong. Ridley was not well received in the islands.

Another sore point with the Kelpers was that the 84 Royal Marines stationed on the islands represented only a token security force. The Marines openly admitted they could not defend the Falklands against any Argentine incursions.

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The British military men even complained about a lack of ammunition, saying they were restricted from practice-firing their Belgian weapons for budgetary reasons.

Yet, it wasn't only Whitehall's policies that had the islanders upset. The Falkland Islands Company (FIC), the largest landowner and principal economic force in the islands' wool-dominated economy, was rumored to be pushing for a settlement to protect its own interests. Coalite, a London-based energy corporation and owner of the FIC, was believed to be pressuring for settlement that would ensure it a stake in any potential offshore oil reserves.

Islanders found this particularly galling because the overriding political fact of the Falklands is that it has been treated as a private-profit domain by British absentee landlords. These landlords held control of most of the land and sheep, and for the most part took their profits out of the islands instead of reinvesting in their holdings.

Above all, however, the Kelpers believe that both Whitehall and the FIC are trying to force them to become Argentine citizens. It is bad enough, they say, to negotiate with a government that is criticized for human-rights violations; but the possibility of some day being subject to Argentine law is too much to bear.

''They [Argentine leaders] say they will give us all the safeguards we want, '' says Stuart Wallace, a Port Stanley legislative councillor and representative in United Nations-sponsored discussions between Britain and Argentina. ''But how can we trust a right-wing dictatorship?''

Not knowing who to trust, the Falklands' eight-member legislative council last year voted 7-to-1 to freeze negotiations for 25 years. The one dissenting vote demanded a permanent freeze. A few Kelpers even called for independence.

In an editorial, the editor of one of two Falkland newspapers wrote: ''Britain does not want us and is going to get rid of us one way or the other. There are only two ways they can do this: Give us our independence or give us away. Surely the first is the better of the two alternatives.''

Most Kelpers say independence is impractical, but they are deeply frustrated by English pressure on them.

The invasion forced England to take a firm stand on an issue it wanted to avoid and put the Kelpers in the situation they most dreaded.

If negotiations do come to any satisfactory conclusion and if Argentina maintains control of the islands, then Kelpers who refuse to live under Argentine law may find themselves in legal limbo with the technical status of refugees.

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