SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Serbian forces besieging Sarajevo allowed a mid-morning deadline set by U.N. peace negotiators to pass yesterday without complying with demands that Serbian troops be withdrawn from two strategic mountains overlooking Sarajevo.
But negotiators in Geneva said that the Serbs had agreed to binding arbitration on the issue today, and the threat of NATO air strikes against the Serbs was not fulfilled.
As dusk fell on the Bosnian capital, Serbian troops remained at front-line positions on Mount Igman, the lower of the two mountains, where Serbian forces pose the most direct threat to Sarajevo.
Most of the withdrawals that the Serbs claimed to have made appeared to have taken place from around Mount Bjelasnica, a 6,800-foot peak southwest of Mount Igman and farther away from Sarajevo.
"There is still a Serbian presence in the area," said Lt. Cmdr. Barry Frewer, a Canadian who is spokesman for the United Nations forces in Bosnia, referring to Mount Igman and Mount Bjelasnica. Meeting with reporters at nightfall, Commander Frewer said there had been some withdrawals or redeployments, but that many Serbian units remained.
The uncertainty was compounded by the small number of U.N. military observers positioned on the two mountains, by a Serbian decision to bar most reporters from the area and by a series of conflicting statements by Serbian political and military leaders.
The Serbian leaders effectively ignored a deadline for their withdrawal from the mountains set by the co-chairmen of the international peace conference that is seeking to end the Bosnian war, Lord Owen of the European Community and Thorvald Stoltenberg of the United Nations. The deadline was set in an effort to restart the Geneva talks, which have been stalled for 11 days by the refusal of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to attend as long as the Serbian forces remain on the two peaks.
Yesterday afternoon, a spokesman for the Serbian delegation in Geneva claimed that the United Nations and the mediators had been accepting the Bosnian Muslim interpretation of where the withdrawal positions should be.
Finally yesterday evening, Lord Owen and Mr. Stoltenberg summoned the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, to the U.N. headquarters in Geneva and thrashed out an agreement allowing the United Nations to settle the dispute.
Under the accord, the deputy U.N. commander in Bosnia, Brig. Vere Hayes of Britain, and the Bosnian Serbs' chief of staff, Gen. Manojlo Milovanovic, will visit Mount Igman this morning to define the area from which the Serbs must withdraw. A U.N. spokesman, John Mills, said any remaining difference would be arbitrated by the U.N. force.