By Maximilian Heath
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The German airline Lufthansa has asked the Argentine government for permission to overfly its country en route to the Falklands, Argentina said on Thursday, adding that the request implies recognition of Falklands "as part of Argentine territory," the Foreign Ministry said.
Lufthansa, separately, said it made the request for two flights supporting a polar research expedition because the normal route via Cape Town has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Argentina and Britain have long disputed ownership of the Falklands, with Argentina for decades claiming sovereignty over the British-run islands it calls the Malvinas. The dispute led to a brief war in 1982.
The Argentine government said Lufthansa asked for permission for two flights that are due to carry scientists and logistical support staff from Hamburg to Mount Pleasant in the Falklands, where they will continue onboard the ship "Polarstern" to Antarctica to conduct climate change research.
Argentina said the German government also asked for its permission for the Polarstern research ship to dock in Port Stanley, the capital of the British-held territory.
The two, 15-hour flights are scheduled for Feb. 1 and March 30.
Argentina's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lufthansa had asked its civil aviation authority and regional authorities to fly over Argentina and use the Argentine Patagonian town of Ushuaia as an alternative airport should it be unable to land in the Falklands.
The Foreign Ministry said the German Embassy also asked for authorization from the Argentine Naval Prefecture for the Polarstern ship to enter "Puerto Argentino," the Argentine name for the Falklands capital Port Stanley.
"The relevance of Lufthansa's request presented to the Argentine authorities is highlighted as it implies the recognition of the Malvinas Islands as part of Argentine territory," the Foreign Ministry said.
In the past year, Argentina has renewed its drive to reclaim the Falklands, appointing a Malvinas minister, saying it will redraw maps to emphasize its claim for use in schools and lobbying at the United Nations.
The German government did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Lufthansa announced the alternate route for the flight via the Falklands in a press release on Wednesday touting "the longest passenger flight in the history of its company, marking one of the most unique flights the airline has ever carried out."
Both passengers and crew at present are in a 14-day and decontaminated in a bid to try to keep COVID cases low in the remote region.
(Reporting by Maximillian Health; writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Leslie Adler)
((Aislinn.Laing@thomsonreuters.com; +56 223704250;))
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