GENEVA -- Indirectly endorsing Bosnian Muslim demands, the international mediators on Bosnia-Herzegovina said yesterday that they will not reconvene peace talks until Serbian forces withdraw from two strategic mountains overlooking Sarajevo.
The Muslim-dominated Bosnian government has been boycotting the negotiations with Serbian and Croatian leaders since Aug. 1 to protest the Bosnian Serbs' seizure of Mount Igman and Mount Bjelasnica. A United Nations spokesman said Serbian forces had pulled back from Mount Bjelasnica, but were still present on Mount Igman.
The spokesman, John Mills, said that the European Community's mediator, Lord David Owen, and the U.N. envoy, Thorvald Stoltenberg, had concluded that it would be unfair to ask the Bosnian president, Alija Izetbegovic, to return to the talks until all Serbian forces had withdrawn.
Yesterday morning, the mediators telephoned Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, to demand speedy evacuation of Serbian troops from Mount Igman. They later repeated their message in a two-hour meeting with Mr. Karadzic, who telephoned his military commander, Lt. Gen. Ratko Mladic, in their presence.
Mr. Mills said Mr. Karadzic then informed the mediators that his forces "were ready to leave, but he raised a number of concerns, such as the number of U.N. troops who would take their place."
The Serbs are insisting that U.N. troops occupy the mountains to prevent Bosnian government forces from retaking them.
Mr. Mills said the mediators were nonetheless hopeful that the negotiations might resume today. He said Mr. Stoltenberg would obtain an up-to-the-minute report from U.N. military commanders the field before he and Lord Owen decided if the talks should go ahead.
Mr. Izetbegovic, who also held a private meeting with mediators yesterday afternoon, said the negotiations would resume "maybe tomorrow at 10 a.m. -- if the Serbs withdraw from the mountains."
He said they were still there at noon yesterday, "but I hope during the night or the next night maybe they will withdraw."
Before the talks were suspended nine days ago, the parties reached agreement on the creation of three autonomous ethnic republics within a "union" of Bosnia-Herzegovina, although their borders had still to be determined. The mediators have also argued that at least 30 percent of the land should contain Bosnian Muslims.
During the break, however, the atmosphere has been complicated by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's approval plans to launch air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions unless the Serbs permit aid to the isolated population of Sarajevo.
Mr. Karadzic told the Associated Press yesterday that the Atlantic alliance risked provoking full-scale war if it attacked Serbian troops. "NATO would trigger huge battles and chaos, with tremendous human suffering of all three ethnic groups," he warned.
In contrast, Mr. Izetbegovic, criticized the mediators for opposing possible air strikes.