BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's Foreign Ministry said Thursday it will take measures against what it describes as the "illegal" exploration for oil and gas in the waters surrounding the disputed Falkland Islands in the south Atlantic.
Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and the federal government's top lawyer, Angelina Abbona, will announce the measures during a press conference that is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. EDT, the ministry said in a statement.
Ministry officials declined to comment or couldn't be reached.
Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner hinted earlier this month her government would take legal action against not only the companies directly involved in fishing and oil exploration off the Falklands but also their investors.
U.K.-listed oil companies are targeting the estimated 8.3 billion barrels of crude some believe lie in the waters surrounding the Falklands.
Shares in the some of the main exploration firms traded lower in London ahead of the press conference.
Rockhopper Petroleum PLC, which plans to drill the highly prospective Loligo well later this year, was down 8 pence, or 2%, at 361 pence. Falkland Oil & Gas, meanwhile, was down 0.4% at 61 pence. Shares of Borders & Southern Petroleum PLC, an explorer that has already begun work on the Stebbing prospect, were up 0.3% at 69 pence. Desire Petroleum PLC's shares were unmoved at 30 pence each.
Oil production could prove a boon for the Falkland Islands government, whose main source of revenue are fisheries licenses sold to companies eager to fish the rich waters surrounding the islands.
Argentina has long sought to regain the Falklands, which have been under British control since the early 1830s, as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The two nations fought a brief but bloody war for control of the islands in 1982 that ended in a stinging defeat for Argentina.
Argentina bases its claims on its geographical proximity and its brief possession of the islands before Britain drove it out.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has said on repeated occasions there is no chance of negotiating the sovereignty of the Falklands unless the islanders ask for it.
Since winning re-election with 54% of the vote last October, Kirchner has become increasingly vocal at home and abroad in demanding that the U.K. negotiate the return of the remote islands to Argentina.
Kirchner has stoked nationalistic passions in recent weeks ahead of the 30th anniversary on April 2 of the start of the Falklands War.
Argentina has enjoyed some success in its efforts to diplomatically and economically isolate the Falklands, whose roughly 3,000 inhabitants are overwhelmingly of British descent.
The popular 59-year-old president recently said her government will renegotiate the terms of a weekly commercial flight from Chile to the islands. The flight lands in Argentina twice a month.
Last month, Industry Minister Debora Giorgi called about 20 of the nation's top chief executives last month to ask them to stop importing goods from the U.K.
In December, the South American trade block, Mercosur, closed its ports to Falkland flagged vessels. Some Caribbean countries have since joined the Mercosur embargo.
U.K. Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne met with Chilean officials in Santiago earlier this week just days before Kirchner's state visit to Chile.
"We aren't looking to increase the rhetoric of conflict with Argentina. We believe in peaceful and friendly relations," he told reporters. "We don't believe that an economic blockade of the Falklands is the way to resolve this."
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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