In his evidence in the defense of General Sreten Lukic, former border police officer says some 430,000 Albanians fled Kosovo via the Vrbnica border crossing. Most of them discarded their ID cards in order to ‘show their disrespect for Serbia’ and make it easier to obtain asylum in Western countries

Sreten Lukic in the courtroomSreten Lukic in the courtroom

According to the records kept by police officer Nebojsa Ognjenovic, 430,000 Albanian civilians crossed the border at Vrbnica into Albania during the NATO campaign in 1999. The prosecution alleges they fled under the pressure of the Serbian army and police. The witness, however, contended before the Trial Chamber that the Albanian civilians had left because of their fear of NATO bombing. At the time relevant for the indictment, Ognjenovic was the commander of the police station at the Vrbnica border crossing.

The first group of civilians attempted to cross the border on 27 March 1999, Ognjenovic said. He and his colleagues stopped them because they didn't have passports. After several hours of arguing back and forth, the policemen agreed to let the relentless Albanians cross the border. When the ice broke, new groups of civilians showed up every day. According to Ognjenovic, people crossed the border into Albania for days without respite. On 29 March 1999 alone, 100,000 persons crossed the border, he said.

Contesting the allegation from the indictment that the Serbian security forces seized and destroyed the identity documents before the Albanians crossed the border, the witness said that the majority of civilians discarded their documents at the border crossing. They wanted to do so; nobody forced them to do it. Ognjenovic supposed that they wanted to 'show their disrespect for Serbia'. He also heard claims that some of them did that to make it easier to obtain asylum in western countries.

In his cross-examination, the prosecution put it to the witness that he had talked to French journalists on 7 March 1999 and said that the police ’sometimes took away the refugees’ ID cards’ because they said they had no respect for Serbia. Ognjenovic remembers he met with the journalists, but not that he told them something like that. ’If their documents had been taken away by force, I guess somebody would have complained to me. But nobody did, so I think this didn’t happen’, the witness concluded.