- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PORT STANLEY, Falkland Islands (AP) - Britain’s defense secretary paid tribute to fallen British veterans on a visit Tuesday to the contested Falkland Islands and said the election of a new government in Argentina could open the door for better relations between the countries.

Michael Fallon was the first British defense chief to visit the islands in more than a decade. The ministry tweeted a photograph of him standing in front of a memorial to the fallen. He bowed his head in front of an obelisk that read: “In Memory of Those Who Liberated Us.”

Britain reclaimed the islands in 1982 several months after they were seized by Argentine soldiers. The remote islands in the South Atlantic are claimed by both countries. Argentina calls them the Islas Malvinas and under former President Cristina Fernandez there was an escalating war of words with Britain.

Asked about the recent election of President Mauricio Macri to replace Fernandez, Fallon said it opened the door to better relations between the countries and with South America in general.

“I hope that opportunity can now be taken,” he said.

In January, Macri met with British Prime Minister David Cameron during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

More than 1,400 British troops are based on the tiny archipelago, which has a resident population of under 3,000 people.

Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands since 1833. Britain disputes the claim and says Argentina is ignoring the wishes of the island’s residents who voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2013 to remain a British territory.

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