Crude graffiti has been daubed on walls as part of a new offensive by loyalists to drive Catholics out of a troubled south Belfast area, it emerged today.
One apartment block where properties sell for up to £120,000 (€180,000) has been smeared with threats demanding they leave.
Leaflets have also been distributed urging residents to back moves to have all Catholics ousted.
The campaign has been based around the fiercely Protestant Sandy Row district, close to an area plagued by race-hate attacks.
With Northern Ireland increasingly in the grip of assaults on ethnic minorities, detectives investigating the murder of a Belfast-based Asian newsagent are thought to be checking for any possible racial link.
Brij Sharma, 37, died from head injuries after being attacked outside a friend’s house in Moneymore, Co Derry, on Sunday. Two men have been charged in connection with the incident.
But although more than half those living in the luxury Whitehall Square apartments in south Belfast are believed to be Chinese, they were not the targets of the intimidation.
The building was covered in painted messages for all “republican spies” and nationalists to leave.
With security chiefs preparing for heightened tensions in the run-up to Northern Ireland’s marching season, loyalists warned efforts to get Catholics out would be intensified.
Four men, who refused to be named and denied they were paramilitaries, vowed to do whatever it took to get all Catholics to quit the area.
“There are people with influence prepared to listen to local residents and help them in whatever way they can,” one said.
“We want these people to leave, but if it comes to it they could be ordered out at just 24 hours’ notice.”
Another of the men claimed the IRA had taken over some of the flats to monitor a loyalist bar and an Orange Order hall opposite.
“This is about keeping what little heritage we have,” he insisted.
“These people don’t belong here and we have to maintain every wee bit of Ulster soil that’s left.”
Bob Stoker, an Ulster Unionist councillor for south Belfast and former Lord Mayor, refused to condemn the graffiti.
Mr Stoker claimed people living in Sandy Row had been provoked into action following months of abuse from the apartments.
Golf balls have been thrown at women, and Protestants subjected to vicious weekend assaults, he alleged.
Mr Stoker added: “If people are going to abuse the residents they have to suffer the consequences.
“I would like to see them leave voluntarily if they are responsible for the attacks or abuse.”
But nationalist representatives were horrified by the threats.
Alasdair McDonnell, a south Belfast SDLP Assemblyman, said: “It’s all a fabrication to suggest that residents in there are operating some sort of republican agenda.
“This has been inspired from somewhere.
“I don’t know who is behind it, but this whole thing is sectarian and driven by hatred and not that different from the racism a few hundred yards up the road.”