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Argentina stalls, Britain frets

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The first few days after the fighting stopped on the Falkland Islands saw Britain and Argentina maneuvering for advantage - and for world opinion - on a diplomatic battleground.

Britain wanted to send almost 15,000 Argentine prisoners back to the mainland , and thus achieve its primary war aim of freeing the islands from occupation.

It was also anxious to begin garrisoning the islands, and for that, it needed to know that air and naval hostilities had ceased in the South Atlantic as well as on the ground.

Argentina, for its part, dragged its feet on giving an assurance that it was not in fact planning new attacks from air or sea. Forty-eight hours after the cease-fire and surrender by Argentine forces, Britain was still waiting for word.

It was a tense period. Diplomatic sources wondered whether it was the beginning of a protracted diplomatic tug of war between the two sides, with Argentina refusing to admit outright defeat and Britain impatiently demanding that it acknowledge failure to hang onto the islands.

The immediate British response to Argentina's post-surrender silence was to pile on pressure.

The British task force commander, Adm. John Woodward, warned in a statement released June 16 that as long as he had to defend against possible Argentine attacks, he simply could not keep the unexpectedly large numbers of prisoners ''dry and warm and fed.''

''Hundreds'' of the men could die from cold and hunger and exposure unless Argentina declared an ''immediate'' end to hostilities, he said, then added:

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