LONDON — Prince William arrived in the Falkland Islands on Thursday for a six-week deployment as a search and rescue helicopter pilot, British officials said, amid an escalating sovereignty dispute with Argentina over the territory.
The Ministry of Defense confirmed that William, known in the service as Flight Lt. Wales, landed on the British outpost as part of a four-member Royal Air Force crew.
It said William will assume his duties “shortly” following a period of briefings and a familiarization flight.
The prince’s visit has riled Argentina, which claims the islands 290 miles (460 kilometers) off its coast that it calls Las Malvinas. Britain’s defense ministry has insisted William’s deployment is routine, but Argentina’s foreign ministry likened the move to a conquistador’s arrival.
Britain and Argentina have been trading barbs in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s April 1982 invasion. The 10-week war that followed ended in British victory and killed 650 Argentine troops, more than 250 British personnel and three islanders.
Britain still maintains about 1,000 troops in the territory, whose 3,000 residents overwhelmingly wish to remain British.
Last month, Argentina persuaded Brazil, Uruguay and Chile to join a Mercosur trade group resolution to turn away any ship flying the Falklands’ flag — which depicts a sheep and a ship along with the United Kingdom’s red, white and blue Union Jack.
That action prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to accuse Argentine President Cristina Fernandez of having “colonialist” aims on an island population that wants to remain a British dependency. She accused Cameron of “mediocrity bordering on stupidity.”
Argentina’s foreign ministry last week accused Britain of militarizing their sovereignty dispute by announcing that it is sending an advanced warship to the islands along with William “in the uniform of a conquistador.”