TBILISI -- Georgia's president and government have condemned the demolition by Russian troops of a 19th-century church and Polish cemetery in the breakaway Abkhazia region.
On January 3, Russian troops clearing the way for a training ground bulldozed the dilapidated church in the village of Tsebelda, which was listed as a cultural heritage site by Abkhazia's separatist leadership, and the nearby cemetery.
In his statement on January 10, President Giorgi Margvelashvili denounced the demolition as "an act of deliberate vandalism...by Russian occupation forces" and urged the international community to respond.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said it was "an act against the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity" and called on Russia "to halt the practice of damaging and destroying cultural monuments in the occupied territories."
Russia recognized Abkhazia and another separatist region, South Ossetia, as independent countries after fighting a five-day war against Georgia in 2008.
Moscow maintains thousands of troops in both regions, in deployments that NATO and Western governments say violate the EU-brokered deal that ended the fighting.
Russia has complained vociferously when monuments to Soviet World War II soldiers abroad have been vandalized or demolished.