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U.N. panel expands Argentina's maritime territory by 35%, including disputed islands

SANTA ROSA DE LA PAMPA, ARGENTINA - JANUARY 01:  Ayrat Mardeev of Russia drives his truck along the coast during stage one of the 2012 Dakar Rally from Mar Del Plata to Santa Rosa de la Pampa on January 1, 2012 in Santa Rosa de la Pampa, Argentina.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

SANTA ROSA DE LA PAMPA, ARGENTINA - JANUARY 01: Ayrat Mardeev of Russia drives his truck along the coast during stage one of the 2012 Dakar Rally from Mar Del Plata to Santa Rosa de la Pampa on January 1, 2012 in Santa Rosa de la Pampa, Argentina. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

Argentina's government is celebrating a U.N. decision announced Monday expanding its maritime territory in the South Atlantic Ocean by 35 percent or 660,000 square miles.

The area affected includes the Falkland Islands – which are under British control but still claimed by Argentina even after the brief, bloody war the two countries fought over them in 1982. In its decision the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf tiptoed around the competing claims, noting that there is an unresolved diplomatic dispute over the Malvinas, as the islands are known in Argentina.

The Argentine foreign ministry said the decision will be key in the decades-old conflict with the U.K.

"This is a historic occasion for Argentina, because we've made a huge leap in the demarcation of the exterior limit of our continental shelf," Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said. "This reaffirms our sovereignty rights over the resources of our continental shelf."

The decision by the U.N. commission ratifies Argentina's 2009 report fixing the limit of its territory at 200 to 350 miles from its coast.

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The British government is downplaying the commission's ruling, saying that it is “not binding.”

"At this stage we have yet to receive details of [the] report. It is important to note that this is an advisory committee. It makes recommendations, they are not legally binding," a spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement quoted by the BBC.

Oil exploration is pumping millions of dollars into the economy of the Falklands. Many islanders remain concerned about Argentina's claim, as well as problems rapid change that may be brought on by the new industry.

Shares in a U.K. oil company with interests in the Falklands, Rockhopper Exploration, slumped after the decision.

The Falklands are internally self-governing, but Great Britain is responsible for their defense and foreign affairs. The British government says islanders cannot be forced to accept Argentine sovereignty against their will.

The islands' government said it is seeking clarification from the British government on "what, if any, decisions have been made, and what implications there may be" for the territory in relation to the U.N. commission ruling.

"As soon as we have any firm information, we will make it available," Mike Summers, chairman of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, said in an e-mailed statement. "Our understanding has always been that the U.N. would not make any determination on applications for continental shelf extension in areas where there are competing claims."

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