Residents of the Falkland Islands are voting in a sovereignty referendum aimed at countering Argentina's increasingly assertive claim over the British-ruled territory.

Diplomatic tension between Britain and Argentina has flared up more than three decades since they went to war over the South Atlantic archipelago.

There are around 2,500 residents living on the Falkland Islands.

They will cast ballots in the two-day referendum in which they will be asked whether they want to stay a British Overseas Territory.

Officials are expected to announce the result tomorrow night.

A near-unanimous Yes vote is likely, prompting Argentina to dismiss the referendum as a meaningless publicity stunt.

A high turnout is expected, however, as islanders embrace it as a chance to make their voices heard.

"We hope the undecideds, or the uninformeds, or those countries that might otherwise be prepared to give the nod to Argentina's sovereignty claim might have pause for thought after the referendum," said John Fowler, deputy editor of the islands' weekly newspaper, the Penguin News.

"This is an attempt to say 'hang on a minute, there's another side to the story'."

In the capital Stanley, referendum posters bearing the Falklands flag and the slogan "Our Islands, Our Choice" adorn front windows.

The post office has produced a line of official stamps to mark the occasion.

Some islanders are the descendants of British settlers who arrived eight or nine generations ago and the Falklands retain an unmistakably British character despite a sizeable community of immigrants from Chile and Saint Helena.

Residents say fiery remarks by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, have fueled patriotic sentiment on the islands, which lie nearly 12,700km from London and just a 75-minute flight away from southern Argentina.

Tensions have risen with the discovery of commercially viable oil resources in the Falklands basin and Ms Fernandez's persistent demands for Britain to hold sovereignty talks over the Malvinas, as the islands are called in Spanish.

London says it will only agree to negotiations if the islanders want them, which they show no sign of doing.

Argentina has claimed the islands since 1833, saying it inherited them from the Spanish on independence and that Britain expelled an Argentine population.

The sovereignty claim is a constant in Argentine foreign policy, but there have been moments of detente since former dictator Leopoldo Galtieri sent troops to land in the Falklands in April 1982, drawing a swift response from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

A ten-week war, which killed about 650 Argentines and 255 Britons ended when Argentina surrendered, is widely remembered in Argentina as a humiliating mistake by the brutal and discredited dictatorship ruling at the time.

No one in Argentina advocates another effort to take the islands by force, but some analysts say the current tough strategy may prove counterproductive by antagonizing islanders.