BELGRADE, June 4 (Reuters) - Copies of a shock videotape documenting the 1995 execution of six Bosnian Muslims by a Serbian paramilitary unit were passed around for years among police in a garrison town, the daily Blic reported on Saturday.
The newspaper quoted residents of Sid, where the Scorpions special police battalion was based, as saying the local video rental shop once possessed five copies of the execution tape, shot in Bosnia at the time of the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces.
The copies were not for the general public, with only those close to the Scorpions allowed to view them, the paper quoted locals as saying.
"When I saw the video (on television) I was speechless," Blic quoted one unnamed Sid resident as telling its reporter. "The killers are people I saw every day. On the street. At the coffee shop. People I said hello to and asked how they were!"
The tape was shown on Wednesday at the Hague war crimes trial of ex-strongman Slobodan Milosevic, and broadcast the same night on Serbian national television, triggering a wave of revulsion. A number of former Scorpions members were arrested and at least two have fled.
Humanitarian Affairs Minister Rasim Ljajic, a Muslim, said he hoped the video would be a wake-up call to Serbs who routinely deny any part in war crimes and resent the fact that their bid for European Union membership is conditional on handing over suspects to the Hague tribunal.
The video was obtained last December from an unnamed and now protected source by Hague prosecutors and Natasa Kandic, a Serbian human rights activist.
They spent months authenticating it and investigating the men it showed. It was shown to Serbian war crimes prosecutors a week ago and its broadcast to a national audience was coordinated with the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.
The broadcast raised speculation Kostunica may be preparing the nation for the arrest of top war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic, head of the Bosnian Serb Army in the 1992-95 war.
In 2001, Serbs were shocked by the reformist government's disclosure that mass graves had been found near Belgrade containing the bodies of some 800 Kosovo Albanians, killed by Serb forces in Kosovo then trucked north to be hidden away.
That revelation was a prelude to the dramatic arrest and handover of Milosevic to the Hague tribunal -- one of the riskiest moments in Serbia's post-war transformation.
Mladic is indicted for genocide for the Srebrenica massacre and for the vicious, 43-month-long siege of Sarajevo in which some 12,000 civilians died. Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte has said he is sheltered in Serbia by army and police hardliners.
The government denies any knowledge, but if it did know where Mladic was and decided to capture him, the execution video could help prepare the ground politically. Mladic is seen as a blameless hero by ultranationalists in Serbia.