BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's police directly controlled a notorious Serb armed unit known as the Scorpions and gave them a license to kill in Bosnia and Kosovo, a police document showed Tuesday.
The Scorpions were one of the several Serbian paramilitary contingents that spread fear and conducted massive ethnic cleansing operations against non-Serbs during the Balkans wars in the 1990s, prominent military analyst Dejan Anastasijevic said.
U.N. war crimes prosecutors in The Hague, Netherlands, presented as evidence Tuesday a 1999 police document that says the Scorpions were a part of the Serbian Special Anti Terrorist Unit, and not a vigilante unit that wanted to help Serbs in Bosnia or Kosovo as Milosevic has claimed at his U.N. war crimes trial.
The document earlier was shown on Belgrade's independent B-92 television.
The war crimes prosecutors contend at that the unit was part of Serbia's regular police from the early 1990s. Directly linking Milosevic with the war atrocities is vital for the prosecutors' case against the former Yugoslav president.
When presented with the document in court, defense witness Obrad Stevanovic, who was deputy interior minister during Milosevic's rule, said he didn't doubt the authenticity of the document, but insisted that only some of the Scorpions' members were regular policemen.
The Scorpions, some 150 shaven-head men, gained international notoriety last week when a gruesome video of the July 1995 executions of six Bosnian Muslim prisoners near Srebrenica was shown on Serbian television. After the broadcast, the nation's leaders acknowledged for the first time their country's role in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II when nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.
The footage showed the Serb paramilitaries prodding the six gaunt young Bosnians -- their hands tied behind their backs -- through the tall green grass, and then spraying them one by one in the back with machine gun bullets, as their bodies slumped to the ground.
"The Scorpions were not the only Serb police or special military unit that operated covertly in Srebrenica in 1995," Anastasijevic said. "Several other were there as well, but sadly that fact still remains a state secret in Serbia."
"Their job was to kill," said Natasa Kandic, Serbia's most prominent rights activist, who discovered the video earlier this year and delivered it to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
She said the paramilitaries, some recruited in Serb prisons among convicted criminals, received a monthly salary from the Serbian state amounting to US$1,000 (euro815) -- a hefty sum by Serb standards in the 1990s, when wages averaged about US$100 (euro81) a month.
"They would enter a village, plundering, raping and killing," said Kandic, whose group -- the Center for Humanitarian Law -- investigates crimes committed by Serbs during the Balkan wars," then act like normal citizens until called for another mission.
The Scorpions' commander, Sasa Cvjetan, was convicted in Serbia last year of war crimes and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of 14 ethnic Albanian civilians and injuring five children, when his unit stormed the northern Kosovo town of Podujevo in March 1999.
The ruling against Cvjetan was overturned by the Supreme Court for alleged procedural violations in his trial. A retrial started in Belgrade on Monday.