(RIA Novosti) - United Nations military observers will resume patrols in the upper part of the Kodori Gorge in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia in Georgia for the first time since the summer of 2003, a Georgian official said Thursday.
Peacekeepers stopped patrolling the gorge after a local bandit group abducted four UN observers in the region on June 5, 2003, and demanded a ransom, reports Trend.
"The first patrol will start today," said Koba Bendeliani, a spokesman for the so-called Georgian 'government-in-exile' in the region.
"The patrol will involve UN military observers, CIS peacekeepers and Georgian police," he said.
The Kodori Gorge in northern Georgia, controlled by Abkhazia in its lower section and Tbilisi in the upper part, has been at the center of tensions between the former Soviet republic and the breakaway region since late July, when Georgia conducted what it called a police operation there to disarm a rebellious militia leader.
Georgia hopes to convince the UN and Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone that the July operation was indeed a police operation, and that Georgian troops are not present in the region, the spokesman said.
Russia has insisted on the withdrawal of Georgian troops from Kodori, saying it is crucial for the revival of talks with Abkhazia. The self-proclaimed republic said in September the operation disrupted peace efforts being made since 1993 and suspended talks.
The bloody conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia erupted in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was suspended by a ceasefire agreement that introduced peacekeeping troops from the former Soviet republics, including Russia, into the separatist area.