BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Someone has vandalized Argentina's war cemetery in the Falkland Islands, repeatedly smashing and shattering the glass that protects the country's sacred Virgin.
Police are seeking suspects, and the islands' government condemned the crime on Tuesday.
"Clearly we condemn any action of this sort and very much regret that this might have happened. Anyone who knows anything about the cause of the damage should contact the police," Dick Sawle, a member of the islands' legislative assembly, said in a statement.
Families of the Argentine war dead blamed British hostility for what they called an "act of sacrilege" and sent letters to Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and Britain's ambassador in Buenos Aires, John Freeman, demanding an urgent and exhaustive investigation.
"We believe that reflects escalating hostility by certain British sectors who are influential locally," their commission said in a statement. "We will not let up until this repugnant act of sacrilege is clarified."
The Argentine government also condemned the vandalism, demanding that the British government mount an impartial investigation that identifies and punishes those responsible. The statement made mention of the Falkland Islands Government, which Argentina doesn't recognize, and blamed Britain for provoking the "barbaric act" with its "hostile attitudes."
The vandalism could have happened anytime in the last week or earlier, said Sebastian Socodo, an Argentine who takes care of the cemetery that holds the remains of 237 Argentine combatants killed during the 1982 war between Argentina and Britain.
"It's basically the glass that covers the Virgin Mary. They just smashed the glass. I don't know with what or how," Socodo said. "I was there a couple of weeks ago and there was no damage."
Images of the damage show the glass was broken by more than a dozen sharp blows. The Virgin figure, whose blue and white garments are the only expression of Argentine pride permitted in the islands, has been removed to protect it from the elements until the shrine can be repaired.
The remote cemetery has been the focus of attention during this year's 30th anniversary of Argentina's occupation of the islands, but on most days and nights, the lonely hillside more than an hour from the capital of Stanley gets few visitors.
In all, the war claimed the lives of 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers, along with three elderly islanders. Argentina has not given up its claim to the Malvinas despite losing the war, and accuses Britain of ignoring UN resolutions urging sovereignty talks.