Canadian was used as human shield in attempt to stop NATO bombing

The defence in the trial of Nicholas Ribic plans to argue Canadian were used as human shields in 1995 in an attempt to stop NATO bombing.

The first phase of the trial of a Serb Canadian accused of using UN peacekeepers as human shields came to an end Wednesday in Ottawa.

Nicholas Ribic of Edmonton is the first Canadian ever to be charged with hostage-taking. He's accused of abducting two peacekeepers, one of them a Canadian officer, and chaining them outside a Serb ammunition bunker to prevent NATO planes from bombing the site in 1995.

The pictures of the peacekeepers, including Capt. Patrick Rechner of the Canadian army, handcuffed to a lightning rod by their Serb captors and being held as human shields, became a symbol of the UN's impotence in the face of Serb military aggression.

One of the captors was Nicholas Ribic of Edmonton, whose trial got under way Tuesday.

Rechner, who spent 24 days as a human shield, told the jury he had known Ribic socially in the Bosnian Serb capital of Pale, and even allowed him to send messages to his girlfriend from the UN office.

But Rechner says it was a different person who came to his office on the morning NATO bombs started to fall on Serb positions.

Ribic was in the uniform of a Bosnian Serb soldier, toting an AK47 rifle, and accompanied by other Serb soldiers.

Rechner placed Ribic at nearly every crucial stage of his captivity, including chaining him to the lightning rod.

The jury heard an audio recording of Ribic on the phone to UN headquarters in Sarajevo, warning that if any more bombs fell on Serb positions, the observers would be the first to die.

But Rechner also testified that Ribic intervened to save him from another Bosnian Serb soldier who wanted to kill him, wrestling a loaded pistol from the man.

Ribic's lawyer, D'Arcy De Poe, doesn't dispute his client's involvement. He said the abduction must be seen in the context of the Bosnian civil war.

"The situation that existed in Pale at that time was extremely complex and you've only heard part of the story. And I would encourage you and anyone else to wait until all of the evidence is heard before coming to any conclusion," said De Poe.

Prosecutor Peter Lamont cautioned the jury that this trial was not about the rights and wrongs of the Bosnian war.

But the war is central to the case, as is the defence plan to argue that Ribic believed that his actions were justified by a desire to stop the NATO bombing.