SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Back from a ground-breaking visit to Serbia, Sarajevo Serbs loyal to the Bosnian government say the two countries are on a slow but sure road to reconciliation.

The Serbs hope to become full partners in negotiations between their government and Serbia to end the Bosnian war. Their visit to Serbia late last month exceeded their expectations, they told reporters this week.

In particular, they said, Serbia shows new signs of readiness to recognize the sovereignty of Bosnia, which seceded from the former Yugoslavia over the protests of Bosnian Serb nationalists and Serbian leaders.

Recognition would frustrate the Bosnian Serb rebels' goal of uniting with Serbia to create a Greater Serbia.

Just under 1 million Serbs live in rebel-held territory in Bosnia under Serb nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic.

But an estimated 200,000 Bosnian Serbs have remained loyal to the Muslim-led government, refusing to join their brethren in the three-year rebellion.

``We are only the tip of an iceberg of people who want to live and work in peace,'' said Boro Bjelobrk, leader of the 11-member Sarajevo delegation that went to the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

In addition to Serbian intellectuals, religious leaders and politicians, the group met with a deputy to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Accused of instigating the war in a bid to unite all Serbs in former Yugoslavia, Milosevic has refused to recognize Bosnia.

The Sarajevo Serbs believe that position may be about to change.

``Mutual recognition is certain,'' Bjelobrk said. ``But there are a lot of technicalities we must overcome. The political climate is changing in Belgrade.''

The Sarajevo delegation represented the Serb Civic Council, which seeks to represent Serbs loyal to the government in peace negotiations.

``Karadzic cannot be the only representative of Serbs in Bosnia,'' said Mirko Pejanovic, head of the Serb Civic Council and a member of Bosnia's collective presidency. ``If we were included in the negotiations, it would take away Karadzic's monopoly to speak for all Serbs.''

The Serbs' trip to Belgrade followed a meeting there between Bosnian diplomat Muhamed Filipovic, a Slavic Muslim, and Milosevic. It was the Serbian president's first contact with a Bosnian government representative that didn't occur through international mediation.

In an interview in Tuesday's Le Nouveau Quotidien, a Swiss newspaper, Filipovic said he expected Milosevic to recognize Bosnia soon, but gave no time frame. ``New contacts could take place in the near future,'' he added, without elaborating.

Filipovic, Bosnia's ambassador to Switzerland, told Milosevic during their March 22-23 meeting that Belgrade must take into account the views of loyalist Serbs, such as those on the Serb Civic Council.

Bjelobrk said several Belgrade intellectuals were so excited about the new contacts that they agreed to come to Sarajevo for a Serb Civic Council assembly session on Sunday.

``I think the war is winding down,'' Bjelobrk said. ``We are moving toward peace, but it will take a lot of patience.''