The principal obstacle to progress appeared to be the position of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, who was still intent on creating his own government within Bosnia.
'He is still holding out for a state within a state,' said Cyrus Vance, co-chairman with Lord Owen of the international conference on the former Yugoslavia.
President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia is expected to present himself in Geneva today to join the talks. 'It is to be hoped,' remarked Lord Owen wryly, 'that Mr Milosevic will see the merits of compromise.'
Mr Milosevic is viewed here as the political overlord and military backer of Mr Karadzic and the men conducting the siege of Sarajevo.
Mr Karadzic went into the meeting to be confronted at first by collective disgust at the murder of Bosnia's deputy Prime Minister by a Serbian gunman on Friday night. 'An apology was made,' Mr Vance reported later.
The Bosnian Serbs then presented their own eight points of principle in response to a 10-point plan put forward last week by Lord Owen and Mr Vance.
In their view the eight-point document did not meet the requirements of the international community, failing explicitly to recognise the powers of a central government to oversee foreign affairs and defence.
It certainly did not please Bosnia's Foreign Minister, who left the meeting grim-faced. 'The Serbs are rejecting the constitutional principles,' he said. But Lord Owen is then said to have led the conference skilfully through elements of similarity and divergence between the two sets of proposals. He and Mr Vance claimed to be narrowing the differences between the sides.
Asked later what this meant, a senior conference official said: 'Narrowing differences is getting them engaged in detailed discussions, you get them from 'no' to 'no but'.'
The critical nature of these talks was underlined when President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia left the building before they formally began. He was obliged to fly to a meeting of the Islamic Conference in Dakar. Muslim nations have said that if there is no progress in Geneva by Friday they may make their own moves at the United Nations, a policy that could open the way to arms shipments to the Bosnian government.
A senior adviser to President Izetbegovic said he did not expect the Geneva talks to achieve a solution but would none the less return from Dakar today to rejoin the discussions. The adviser indicated that personal pressure from France's President Mitterrand had persuaded the President to go ahead with the talks despite his fury at the murder in Sarajevo. The Bosnian government had initially wanted to withdraw but later reassessed its position, he said.
The fact that the co-chairmen had managed to get all sides to the talks at all, in the climate of bitterness over the killing, was viewed by conference officials as something of a triumph in itself.
Bosnia's Prime Minister, Mile Akmadzic, said in Geneva that a Croat minister in the Bosnian government, Josip Gogala, was killed in detention in Sarajevo on Thursday after he was arrested by Muslim paramilitary troops. There were no further details.
PARIS - The French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, said yesterday that France was prepared to act alone if necessary to liberate by force prison camps in Bosnia where civilians had been raped and tortured, Reuter reports.
Mr Dumas said he had asked the French UN commander in Sarajevo, Philippe Morillon, whether he had the military means to escort convoys to the prisoner camps. 'He replied in the affirmative,' he said.
Leading article, page 22