LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will reinforce its military presence on the disputed Falkland Islands to ensure they are properly protected, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said on Tuesday, a move rejected as unnecessary by Argentina which lays claim to the archipelago.
Tensions over the Falklands still crackle more than 30 years after Argentine forces seized the islands in 1982 and Britain sent a task force to retake them in a brief war which saw more than 600 Argentine and 255 British servicemen killed.
“We are reinforcing our guard,” Fallon told parliament.
“We will continue to defend the right of the islanders to determine their future and to maintain their way of life against whatever threats may arise.”
Britain would deploy two Chinook helicopters to the Falklands from mid-2016, upgrade communications at the Royal Air Force base there, and renew the surface-to-air missile defense system which is due to come out of service around 2020, he said.
It would also invest 180 million pounds ($268 million) over the next decade on modernizing infrastructure and continue to provide a maritime patrol vessel there, he added.
The number of British military and civilian personnel will be kept at around 1,200.
The Argentine government claims the islands, which are 300 miles off the Argentine coast and 8,000 miles from Britain, as its own and has stepped up a campaign to get what it calls Las Malvinas back as exploration by oil and gas firms nearby has raised diplomatic tensions.
Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, Alicia Castro, criticized the British move as unnecessary, saying an invasion was “never going to happen”.
“Argentina isn’t a threat to the United Kingdom, nor to the people of the Islas Malvinas,” she told Argentinian radio station Radio Del Plata. “There will never be another war in Las Malvinas.”
Fallon said he would not speculate about a report in the Sun newspaper on Tuesday that Russia was working on a deal to lease 12 long range bombers to Argentina.
“The principle threat to the Islands remains the quite unjustified claim of Argentina to ownership,” he said.
($1 = 0.6717 pounds)
Additional reporting by Michael Holden in London and Nicolas Misculin in Buenos Aires; Editing by Andrew Osborn