British insurer Aviva said its life insurance sales fell in the first nine months of the year, reflecting tough conditions in its key European markets and a decision to walk away from less profitable business.

Aviva, Britain's second-biggest insurer, had life insurance sales of 23.6 billion pounds in the nine months to September 30, down 8 percent compared with the same period last year, it said on Thursday.

The decline in life sales was partly offset by a better performance in general insurance, where sales were up 9 percent at 7 billion pounds.

Whilst the market is likely to remain challenging in the near term, we continue to make good strategic progress and are strengthening customer franchises in key markets, Aviva Chief Executive Andrew Moss said in a statement.

Aviva shares closed at 325.1 pence on Wednesday, valuing the company at about 9 billion pounds. The stock has fallen 18 percent in the year to date, underperforming a 14 percent decline in the European insurance index <.SXIP>.

(Reporting by Myles Neligan; editing by Kate Holton)