ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A member of the commission investigating Austrian President Kurt Waldheim's wartime past said Tuesday he had not found a telegram purportedly linking Waldheim to prisoner deportations.

''We know this document is not in state archives, either in Belgrade or in Zagreb, and its authenticity cannot be established at this time,'' West German historian Manfred Messerschmidt told reporters.

He said he would return to Vienna immediately to resume work with five other historians on a panel commissioned by the Austrian government to probe Waldheim's actions as a lieutenant in the German army in the Balkans in World War II.

The commission is scheduled to report to the Austrian government Feb. 8.

Messerschmidt searched the state archives in Zagreb Tuesday and sent an assistant to Belgrade to check those files.

Messerschmidt said they did not find the original of a telegram published by the West German news magazine Der Spiegel that said Waldheim was involved in the deportations of more than 4,000 Yugoslav civilians to two prison camps near Belgrade in 1942.

The telegram was said by Der Spiegel to have been discovered by Yugoslav historian Dusan Plenca, who repeatedly has claimed to have evidence linking Waldheim to war crimes but has never produced it.

Waldheim has been surrounded by controversy since March 1986, when Western news media and the World Jewish Congress disclosed he had served in the Balkans from 1942 to 1945, when thousands of people were deported to death camps.

Waldheim, a former U.N. secretary-general, belatedly admitted his service in the Balkans, but denied any participation in or knowledge of Nazi war crimes. His spokesman Gerold Christian said the telegram published by Der Spiegel probably was a fake.

Col. Anton Mileitic, chief of the military museum archives in Zagreb, told reporters Tuesday that the document described by Plenca was held ''in private hands.''

Plenca told The Associated Press Monday the document was in a Belgrade archive.

Messerschmidt said the assistant he sent to Belgrade, Zoran Jovanovic, was told further efforts should be made to get Plenca to say where the document originated.

''But I'm not going to wait for this. I have to continue work on the commission. If and when we get an authentic document, I may return to check it,'' Messerschmidt said. ''We shall mention this document in our report, but with special remarks.''

Messerschmidt said he was taking back to Vienna 25 documents including a copy of the announcement of an award given to Waldheim by the Croatian Nazi puppet state in 1942 and a copy of another telegram concerning prisoner deportations to compare the format and stamp with the document published in Der Spiegel.

''Plenca knows where this document is, at one time I spent over two hours with him in Belgrade and then he said he would bring some very important documents along,'' Messerschmidt said. ''But he didn't.''