, LONDON, Feb 2 – Prince William arrived in the Falkland Islands on Thursday for a six-week mission with the Royal Air Force (RAF), British officials said, a move Argentina has condemned as a “provocation”.
The 29-year-old, who is second in line to the British throne, has been sent to the disputed South Atlantic archipelago as a routine part of his work as an RAF search and rescue pilot, the Ministry of Defence said.
But the timing of the deployment has stoked tensions ahead of the 30th anniversary of the start of the war between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, which London controls but Buenos Aires claims as its own.
“The Ministry of Defence can confirm Flight Lieutenant Wales, as part of a four-man search and rescue (SAR) crew, has arrived in the Falkland Islands on a routine operational deployment and will shortly take up SAR duties post a period of briefings and a familiarisation flight,” a ministry spokesman said.
When William’s deployment was announced in November, Argentina said it was a “provocative act”, and this week the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires said the prince would be arriving in a “conqueror’s uniform”.
Tensions have not been helped by the announcement this week that Britain is sending HMS Dauntless, a state-of-the-art warship, to the region, although defence officials insisted the move was a purely routine deployment.
Argentina’s vice president said on Thursday that Britain was sabre-rattling in the Falklands in order to distract its public from high unemployment.
The moves “have to do with British domestic politics, with the high unemployment,” Amado Boudou told La Red radio. “This is an attempt to cover for a government that has a low level of accomplishment.”
The windswept Falklands, home to about 3,000 inhabitants, have been held by Britain since 1833.
On April 2, 1982, the then-ruling junta in Argentina invaded the Falklands, which it calls Las Malvinas, sparking a 74-day war with Britain which cost the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British troops.
London retained control and has vowed to defend the islands as long as the inhabitants want to be part of Britain.
The Ministry of Defence said William “will be deploying purely in an RAF role and will not be completing any ceremonial roles as the Duke of Cambridge”.
“A six-week deployment to the Falklands is conventional for SAR pilots at this stage of their career,” it said.
William qualified as an RAF search and rescue pilot in September 2010 and began working from a base in north Wales, making regular helicopter forays to rescue sailors in distress and walkers stranded up mountains.
His wife Catherine, whom he married in a lavish ceremony last year which was broadcast around the world, will complete her first solo public engagements during her husband’s absence.
Catherine, 30, will visit an exhibition of portraits by late British artist Lucian Freud at the National Gallery in London on February 8, before touring a children’s hospital in Liverpool on February 14.
The couple’s recently acquired pet cocker spaniel will keep her company for the rest of William’s deployment at the house they share near the RAF base on Anglesey, north Wales.
William’s service in the RAF follows time spent with the British army and navy in preparation for when he is king and head of the armed forces.
His younger brother Harry served with the British army in Afghanistan for 10 weeks in 2007-08 under a media blackout, although it is unlikely the palace would allow the older prince to be put in such danger.