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Falkland sovereignty at heart of Argentine fishing dispute

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The sinking of a Taiwanese trawler by the Argentinian Coast Guard last week has brought into focus the problem of control over fishery resources in the South Atlantic and the delicate issue of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. Argentina and Britain went to war over the islands, referred to here as the Malvinas, four years ago.

After the Argentinian surrender to British forces in June 1982, Britain imposed a 150-mile exclusion zone around the islands -- which remains in force.

The British-mandated zone applies to Argentinian ships, but not to vessels of other nations. The result has been a bonanza for large-scale fishing operations.

In the years since the conflict, Argentina claims Britain has looked the other way while foreign fishing fleets used the zone as a base for dramatically expanded activities. Analysts say that, since Argentina does not want to provoke Britain by entering the zone, the fleets have been able to use the area as a safe haven -- a place where they can flee to when the Argentinians catch them fishing in coastal waters outside the zone.

The number of fishing boats, sailing under the flags of Japan, Taiwan, the Soviet Union, Spain, and Poland, has multiplied 10 times in the region since 1982.

``We have detected as many as some 220 foreign trawlers operating in the zone,'' says the spokesman for Argentina's Foreign Ministry. ``Many of them are using suction-systems of fishing rather than nets. This does not allow any discrimination between the mature fish and the young fish, with the result that they are ruining the fish stocks for future generations.''

The recent incident of the Taiwanese trawler is reported to have occurred some 25 miles outside the 150-mile exclusion zone.

On May 27, before the boat was sunk, Argentina's Foreign Ministry called together the ambassadors of the various nations that maintain fleets in the South Atlantic -- to inform them that Coast Guard patrolling would be intensified, and that any foreign trawlers found fishing in Argentinian waters would face heavy penalties.

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