Tributes paid to soldier killed in Afghanistan

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The first British Army soldier to be killed in Afghanistan this year was remembered as a friendly giant with a mischievous sense of humour by friends and family yesterday. Private Joseva Vatubua was part of an operation to assault enemy positions north of the village of Saidabad Kalay, Helmand, on Saturday evening when an improvised explosive device buried in the wall of a compound exploded. The 24-year-old, known to his friends as Big Joe, was among more than 2,000 Fijian soldiers serving in the British Army and the 11th to have lost his life in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was a keen rugby player and was selected to represent the Army at Rugby Sevens.

Last night his commanding officer in The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Lt-Colonel Adam Griffiths called him a loyal, brave soldier, a "truly marvellous young man" whose outwardly shy persona belied an infectious sense of humour.

The young General Purpose Machine Gunner, who sang in the battalion's Fijian choir, had been planning to renew his marriage vows to his wife Claudette after the tour, his friend Private Veniona Jegesa revealed.

"We can't put into words how proud we are of Joseva," his family said yesterday. "Joseva is a hugely loved man who we will always miss but never forget."

Lt-Colonel Andrew Harrison MBE, Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment Battlegroup, said: "He was colossal – he dominated the front row and dwarfed his machine gun and delivered fiery, martial passion in abundance. But most of the time he was understated, calm and simply kind."