FROM Washington to Brussels, Geneva to Sarajevo, all eyes were on Mt. Igman, the strategic peak above the besieged capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as rebel Serb forces delayed withdrawing from their positions Aug. 10.
The delay forced mediators in Geneva to postpone peace talks and raised the possibility of NATO airstrikes in the former Yugoslav republic.
NATO approved plans for possible air strikes against Bosnian Serbs on Aug. 9 and said UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali would have to give the go-ahead to launch the strikes. Until then, NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe, US Gen. John Shalikashvili, will identify bombing targets in Bosnia.
The NATO decision marked a diplomatic success for the United States, which in an abrupt policy shift recently stepped up pressure on its allies to take tougher action. But NATO made the strikes conditional on future actions by the Bosnian Serbs, and agreed that any airstrikes would be limited to the support of humanitarian relief efforts and should not be interpreted as a decision to intervene militarily in the conflict.
Diplomats said NATO was planning for a graduated three-phase response, starting with a limited attack on an offending unit, graduating if necessary to hits on command-and-control, supply, or communications centers, and ending in a full-scale strike. Actions that could trigger bombing include blockage of supplies to Sarajevo or other areas and attacks on civilians. In Geneva: Talks Delayed
International mediators postponed peace talks Aug. 10 until UN troops take control of Mt. Igman from the Bosnian Serbs.
Lord David Owen of the European Community and UN mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg telephoned Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and told him "in very clear terms that his forces should withdraw and that they should withdraw this morning if possible," according to John Mills, spokesman for the peace talks. Dr. Karadzic reportedly told the mediators he would contact his forces, but it was not certain they would comply.
The three parties to the talks - Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs - have agreed to partition Bosnia into three ethnic states, and had started drawing the boundaries when the Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, began boycotting the talks.
Mr. Izetbegovic had only reluctantly agreed to the plan, put forth by Serbs and Croats, and said he would not return to the talks until the Serbs retreat from two key mountains they control outside Sarajevo, Bjelasnica and Igman.
Serb forces withdrew Aug. 9 from Mt. Bjelasnica, the taller and more distant peak, after blowing up the television tower there. But Mt. Igman is considered more important because it was the last weapons supply route for government forces. Shells Hit Croatian Bridge
Mills said the mediators hoped to hold a session late Aug. 10. Government and Bosnian Serb military commanders, meanwhile, met with UN officials at Sarajevo airport in a new attempt to formalize an 11-day-old verbal agreement to stop fighting.
Serb gunners kept up their shelling of an important road bridge on the Adriatic coast, Croatian radio said Aug. 10.
The report said the area around the Maslenica bridge, which is being repaired after an earlier bombardment from the nearby Serb Krajina enclave, was hit by about 20 shells.
The bridge links north and south Croatia and is viewed as a flashpoint that could kindle renewed war between the Croatian Army and breakaway Serbs. Serb forces, who rebelled during Croatia's 1991 war of independence from the Yugoslav federation, are bent on preventing the Croatians from using the bridge as long as they refuse to abide by an agreement signed by both sides to turn it over to the supervision of UN troops.
The demilitarization agreement of July 16 collapsed when the Croatians attached a fresh condition: insistence that the Serbs also hand over their heavy weapons to the UN.