By Marcos Brindicci and Juan Bustamante
STANLEY, Falkland Islands | Tue Mar 12, 2013 3:58am EDT
(Reuters) - Residents of the Falkland Islands voted almost unanimously to stay under British rule in a referendum aimed at winning global sympathy as Argentina intensifies its sovereignty claim.
The official count on Monday showed 99.8 percent of islanders voted in favor of remaining a British Overseas Territory in the two-day poll, which was rejected by Argentina as a meaningless publicity stunt. There only three "no" votes out of about 1,500 cast.
"Surely this must be the strongest message we can get out to the world," said Roger Edwards, one of the Falklands' assembly's eight elected members.
"That we are content, that we wish to retain the status quo ... with the right to determine our own future and not become a colony of Argentina."
Pro-British feeling is running high in the barren and blustery islands that lie off the tip of Patagonia, at the southern end of South America. Turnout was 92 percent among the 1,649 Falklands-born and long-term residents registered to vote.
Arm every able bodied man and woman on the islands to the teeth and it won't look so appealing.