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With dialogue in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict frozen for much of last year, the United Nations mission there remains vital in preventing a flare-up of the hostilities between Government and separatist forces which uprooted nearly 300,000 refugees over a decade ago, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in his latest report.

"Maintenance of stability and resumption of dialogue between the parties remain key to achieving progress towards a settlement," Mr. Annan states in the <"">report, recommending a further six-month extension of the mandate of the 10-year-old UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) until 31 July 2005.

"I remain convinced that <"">UNOMIG continues to play a key role in preventing instability on the ground and in promoting a political settlement of the conflict," he says, stressing the need to reach a lasting and comprehensive solution based on addressing the core issue of the political status of Abkhazia with the State of Georgia.

The Abkhaz side has for the past several years refused to receive a paper on distributing "competences" between the two parties, invoking its unilateral "declaration of independence" of 1999.

Mr. Annan notes that tensions in the conflict zone and disputes over October's self-styled presidential elections in Abkhazia, which led to a new poll being scheduled, brought all contacts to a halt by mid-year, until the Abkhaz side resumed participation last month in the quadripartite meetings and the joint fact-finding group.

UNOMIG, which consists of 130 uniformed personnel, including 119 military observers and 11 civilian police supported by 103 international civilian personnel and 184 local civilian staff, was established in 1994 after an accord reached in Moscow ended the fighting.

Mr. Annan notes that during the past six months the mission continued to conduct regular patrolling on the security zone and the restricted weapons zone on both sides of the ceasefire line.

As in his previous reports he also notes that the security of UNOMIG personnel remains a major concern and he urges both sides to "identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of criminal acts" against the mission, such as the downing of a UNOMIG helicopter in the Kodori valley in 2001, in which nine people were killed, and the attack on a UNOMIG bus in Sukhumi in Abkhazia in 1998 in which four people were injured.

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