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UN troops to quit Iraq

The United Nations is to withdraw its 236 'blue helmets' from northern Iraq because it has no funds to keep them there, Reuter reports from Geneva. Officials said the first 50 guards would be pulled out today and the remainder withdrawn by mid-June unless Western governments responded before then to urgent UN appeals for funds.

The first batch of the guards were sent to Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War to help protect Iraqi Kurds in the north of the country who had rebelled against President Saddam Hussein. The UN's Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) appealed earlier this year for dollars 489m (pounds 320m) to cover its Iraq operations for a year from April, but an offical said less than dollars 2m had been pledged.

'It's not just the guards who are affected, it's our whole programme,' said the official. 'With the guards gone, however, there'll no longer be a visible UN presence in the country.'