by Nuala McCann
BBC News Website
The graves of nearly 40 people have been desecrated by vandals in an overnight attack on the Republican plot at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast.
Paint was thrown at the Republican monument at Milltown
Paint was thrown over the headstones, including those of hunger striker Kieran Doherty and three IRA members killed by the SAS in Gibraltar.
The main memorial at the site in the cemetery off the Falls Road was covered in yellow paint.
It is the fourth attack on the plot in the last six years.
In 2004, there was a series of attacks on the graves of republicans, including that of hunger striker Bobby Sands.
Bobby Sands, an IRA prisoner, died in 1981 aged 27 after refusing food for 66 days in a protest over political status for republican prisoners in the Maze prison. He was the first of ten men to die.
On this occasion, Bobby Sands' grave, as well as that of fellow hunger striker Joe McDonnell, was left undamaged.
Padraic McCotter, chairman of the Belfast National Graves Association said three or four republicans were buried in each of the 12 plots.
"It is just wrong," he said, as experts worked to try to remove the gloss paint from the plot.
"Sixty-six British soldiers are buried in Milltown and not one of their graves is touched. That is the way it should be.
"The Republican graves should be treated in just the same way."
Mr McCotter said the yellow paint which had been poured over the 1916 Irish Proclamation of Independence on the central monument at the plot was proving difficult to move.
He said that certain graves had been deliberately untouched.