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Argentina resolves to stay the course as British close in

By Jimmy BurnsSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / June 2, 1982

Buenos Aires

With Britain poised to take the Falklands capital of Port Stanley, the moment of truth for the Argentine Army has come.

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As the war intensifies, reports of differences on the wisdom of pursuing the war escalate.

But if there are sharp divisions within the ruling junta and among top military commanders as to how to conduct the war that seems increasingly to have tilted in favor of the advancing British troops, Argentina is giving no public sign of weakening its resolve to fight on.

With strategic Mt. Kent overlooking Port Stanley falling into British hands June 1, Argentina is bracing itself for what the junta believes could be a war of attrition. The Argentine garrison, some 7,000 strong, dug in around Port Stanley, is believed to have a two-month supply of food on hand. Moreover, Argentina is insisting that supplies have been able to penetrate the blockade imposed on the islands by the Royal Navy and that its troops are sufficiently entrenched to offer stiff resistance.

Military sources believe British troops will find the taking of Stanley a costly affair--even though they are less than 10 miles from the capital at this writing--and that this toll would place severe pressures on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to bow to some of the more dovish members of her Cabinet and seek a negotiated settlement with Argentina.

Although reports reaching London allege captured Argentine prisoners are disheartened and underfed, military sources in Buenos Aires appear far from demoralized by events so far.

There is also little doubt here that Lt. Gen. Mario Benjamin Menendez, the Argentine military governor of Stanley, is a man of his word and will continue the war regardless of recent British gains on the ground.

''General Menendez would rather commit suicide than surrender without putting up a fight,'' said one military source.

General Menendez is professionally a faithful reflection of his commander in chief, Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri--a tough no-nonsense soldier whose career was molded out of a no-holds-barred war against left-wing guerrillas. The Army's war against the guerrillas was a cruel ''dirty'' one, lacking any lasting popular appeal.

General Menendez has an added incentive spurring him on toward ''heroic resistance.'' Of the three branches of the armed forces, all of which are represented in the ruling junta and which therefore have the political fallout of a possible defeat to consider, the Army remains the one in most urgent need of medals.

The Navy, for instance, won wide public sympathy and military honors as a result of the tragic sinking of the cruiser General Belgrano; the Air Force has also boosted its reputation by leading skillful and courageous attacks on the British task force. But the Army had until recently played a relatively low profile role in the conflict. The British Defense Ministry claimed June 1 that 250 Argentine soldiers were killed during the battle for Goose Green settlement May 28.

Yet these setbacks are apparently not deterring the occupying Argentine forces.

Strategists are insisting that a high-level decision was taken as early as April 8 to concentrate the bulk of Army defense in Port Stanley, and leave only tokens of pocket resistance in other parts of the islands. Argentine troops stationed in Darwin were reinforced by troops from West Falkland, but the request of the local commander for more backup from Stanley was turned down by General Menendez, who insisted on sticking to the original strategy.