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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 September 2006, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Wages and pride draw Fijians to UK army
Gunner Samuela Vanua
Gunner Vanua was one of two British Army soldiers killed near Basra

Two Fijian soldiers serving with the British army have been killed in the last week. But their deaths show no sign of deterring the large number of fellow countrymen prepared to enlist.

Gunner Samuela Vanua was one of two members of 12 Regiment Royal Artillery to die when a patrol was targeted in a roadside bombing north of Basra in Iraq on Monday.

Three days earlier, Ranger Anare Draiva of the 1 Royal Irish Regiment was killed fighting against the Taleban in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

The 27-year-olds were among almost 2,000 Fijians in the British Army.

"Despite the number of deaths in the conflicts, there are hundreds more Fijians who are prepared to go to the region, either as part of the British army or to get jobs in security," said Sophie Foster, night editor of the Fiji Times newspaper.

"They are young men and hope to acquire money for their families and come back in one piece," she said.

"They often talk about it as being a professional thing but there's still a lot of pride in the fact that they are participating as Fijians."

'Exemplary soldiers'

The number of Commonwealth citizens in the army has risen from about 300 to nearly 6,500 since the Ministry of Defence, faced with staffing shortfalls, began a recruitment drive.

More than 15,000 Fijians are said to have applied since 1998.

Long colonial links have seen their ancestors serve alongside British troops for more than a century.

Joseva Lewaicei
Private Joseva Lewaicei also served in Afghanistan

In 2002, the British High Commissioner in Fiji paid tribute when he described the South Pacific islanders, renowned for their bravery and strength, as ''exemplary soldiers''.

Faced with high unemployment at home, the British army is an obvious draw.

Almost half of Fijians are reported to live below the poverty line, earning an average of about 2,500 a year.

As Commonwealth citizens, Fijians are entitled to pay and conditions similar to those of British soldiers. Salaries are also far more than they could expect from the Fijian armed forces.

Welfare officer

There were two other Fijian fatalities in Iraq before Ranger Draiva's death on Friday.

Private Joseva Lewaicei, 25, of 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment died outside Basra in May and Private Pita Tukatukawaqa, 27, a Fijian serving with the Black Watch, was killed when a roadside bomb hit a Warrior armoured vehicle in November 2004.

Private Lewaicei had also served in Afghanistan.

The risk of death appears to be less of a discouragement to would-be soldiers than other factors.

Scraping together the money for flights to enable completion of the army selection process in the UK can be difficult for many.

And the Fiji-based British Servicemen Family Association says recruits often need time to adapt to life in the army.

Soldiers find themselves away from home for the first time in their lives, stationed at bases on the other side of the world, and there are no hand-outs for visits back to Fiji.

However, an Army welfare officer has started to attend recruitment briefings in Fiji to make sure potential soldiers are fully informed about the more practical aspects of army life.


SEE ALSO
Dead British soldiers are named
15 May 06 |  Middle East
Fijians rush to join army
05 Jun 02 |  England

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