BUENOS AIRES, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- The residents of the Malvinas, known to the Britons as the Falklands, are preparing for a March referendum on the islands' national status, a move backed by Britain to settle an outstanding territorial dispute with Argentina.
However, Argentina is unlikely to recognize the outcome of the poll, since it claims the 3,000 islanders are British immigrants, not an indigenous Latin American community which inclines to identify with its closer Argentinean neighbors.
As the March 11 and 12 referendum dates approach, the debate over which country has sovereignty rights over the islands and their potentially oil-rich waters is heating up.
Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman was in London last week to drum up support for his country and highlight the referendum's dubious relevance.
While staying there, he inflamed the British government by stating that the islands will be Argentina's "in less than 20 years."
"The islanders will be the ones to answer that through the consultation," the disputed Islands' British Governor Nigel Haywood told Xinhua via email recently.
"And the decision to run a consultation" on whether to keep their status as a British Overseas Territory "has the support of the British government," he added.
The islands' eight-member legislative assembly, including its most prominent member Jan Cheek, reportedly proposed the referendum.
"There will be international observers from very respected organizations," Cheek told Xinhua, declining to name anyone of them.
"Regretfully, the Argentinean government would try to pressure them to withdraw" if their names were known, he said.
Argentina has already called the referendum "illegal," on the grounds that the voters have been "an implanted nation since 1833," when the British invaded and expelled the Argentinean inhabitants, as the United Nations has observed.
Referendum organizers, meanwhile, announced details of the poll, saying there will be five voting stations, three on Isla Soledad (East Falkland), including a mobile station, and two more on Isla Gran Malvina (West Falkland), one of which will also be mobile.
The referendum is costing 62,000 British pounds (about 96,700 U.S. dollars).
"The result will be immediately announced after the counting is complete and verified. This should be by the end of Tuesday, March 11," said Cheek.
On Monday, Argentina's Ambassador to London, Alicia Castro, also rejected the initiative.
"It's a media strategy. Obviously, the British will vote to continue being British," Castro told Buenos Aires local radio station America.
In 1982, Argentina and Britain fought a 74-day war over the islands just off Argentina's South Atlantic coast. The conflict ended with the deaths of 649 Argentinean and 255 British soldiers, as well as three islanders.
The referendum, unfortunately, is unlikely to settle the age-old dispute.