Page last updated at 21:56 GMT, Monday, 15 September 2008 22:56 UK

UN to leave Sri Lanka rebel area


The UN is to withdraw its staff on Tuesday from Sri Lanka's rebel-held northern region of Kilinochchi.

A UN spokesman said they had been assured by Tamil Tiger rebels that its staff would be allowed to go.

Last week, the government told foreign aid workers to leave the area, saying it could not guarantee their safety.

But at the weekend, hundreds of displaced civilians protested against the withdrawal outside UN offices, preventing staff from leaving.

The UN's decision to withdraw comes as the government continues a major offensive against the rebels in northern areas of the island.

On Monday, the military said it had killed at least 18 rebels as troops advanced into deeper into Tamil Tiger-controlled territory.

'Too dangerous'

The UN spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, told the BBC's Sinhala service that fighting had "increased considerably" with shelling coming close to the UN compound, making it "too dangerous to remain".

Mr Weiss said the UN had "received assurances" that its personnel would not be prevented from leaving Kilinochchi on Tuesday, adding that the Tamil Tigers were "the de-facto authority there and hold powers of policing people".

Aid agencies say there are nearly 160,000 people in the Tiger-controlled north who have been displaced by the recent fighting.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east for 25 years. More than 70,000 people have died.

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