VIENNA, FEB. 8 -- An international commission of historians said today that it had found no evidence that Austrian President Kurt Waldheim was personally involved in war crimes during his service in World War II, but it strongly criticized him for failing to act to halt atrocities he was aware of and for trying for decades to conceal his war record.

Waldheim welcomed the panel's conclusion that knowledge of misdeeds is not a crime, and said that he would not resign because of the criticism. His supporters made clear that they viewed the report as a victory.

Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, however, said that he was "disturbed" by the criticism of the former U.N. secretary general. Senior members of Vranitzky's Socialist Party, which opposed Waldheim in the 1986 presidential election, have called on Waldheim to step down.

The government-sponsored panel of historians from six foreign countries presented its report to Vranitzky and Vice Chancellor Alois Mock after five months of research.

The report officially is to be made public on Tuesday. But commission members and government officials described its principal findings to reporters today, and the Austrian Press Agency carried excerpts late this evening.

Waldheim "repeatedly went along with unlawful acts and thereby made it easier for them to be carried out," the report said.

"In general, a certain guilt could arise just from knowing about violations of the human rights in a place where a person was stationed if the person . . . out of lack of strength or courage . . . violated human duty to take steps against injustice," it said.

The commission also said that it "could not agree with the way {Waldheim} made an effort to make his military past forgotten and, once that was no longer possible, to make it seem harmless," it said.

Just hours before handing over the 200-page document, the commission deleted a conclusion that Waldheim bore "moral responsibility" for some breaches of international rules of war, commission members said.

The panel decided that making such a judgment would go beyond its mandate from the government, West German commission member Manfred Messerschmidt said.

The panel removed the phrase as one or more government officials who support Waldheim told commission chairman Hans Rudolf Kurz of Switzerland that the commission was not authorized to make such a judgment, members said.

But Messerschmidt, Israeli commission member Jehoda Wallach and panel secretary Hagen Fleischer said that the commission decided on its own to delete the phrase before learning of the pressure on Kurz.

The government had hoped that in the report, for which it paid $150,000, the commission would reach authoritative findings over the controversy that has dogged Waldheim and Austria since March 1986.

At that time, early in the presidential campaign, the Austrian news magazine Profil disclosed that Waldheim had sought to conceal his service as a lieutenant with a German Army unit during a brutal campaign in the Balkans from 1942 to 1945. Waldheim was assigned to compile reports on activities of the unit, which was involved in deportations of Jews and anti-Nazi guerrillas.

Wallach said that it was "clear" that Waldheim, as a staff officer, had "no command authority" and therefore bore no direct responsibility for war crimes.

"They did not arrive at the conclusion that Mr. Waldheim was personally guilty," Vranitzky told a news conference. But he added, "There is a lack of critical material in the report concerning Mr. Waldheim's activity as a wartime officer."

Waldheim said in a television interview that he was "very glad that the president of the commission made a statement saying that I am not guilty of war crimes, that knowledge is not a crime."

"Every person who served in the war knew about events -- one more, another less. From the perspective of today, it's easy to criticize," the president said.

Asked whether he should resign given the damage that the controversy has caused to Austria's reputation abroad, Waldheim said, "I see my duty as putting all my knowledge and experience at the service of my country. I will continue to do this."

Mock, leader of the conservative Peoples Party which backed Waldheim in the election, dismissed the criticism of the president and emphasized that he had been cleared of guilt of war crimes. "Everything else has no relevance for me," said Mock, who is foreign minister as well as vice chancellor.

A senior aide of Mock's, Heribert Steinbauer, said the criticisms were "repeating to a certain extent what has been known for the last two years, such as that he supposedly admitted things only when pressured, or why didn't he become a martyr" by objecting to war crimes.

"He was one of the hundreds of thousands who did not become martyrs," Steinbauer said.

The controversy over Waldheim has made it difficult for him to act as a good will ambassador for Austria, which is one of the president's principal duties. He has not been invited to make an official visit to any of the western countries that are Austria's best friends.

In the most serious blow to Waldheim since he took office in July 1986, the U.S. Justice Department last April barred him from entering the United States as a private citizen, citing evidence suggesting that he was involved in committing war crimes.

The United States has never made public its evidence against Waldheim, and some commission members complained that their job was made more difficult by the lack of access to the U.S. data.

They also said that it would have been helpful if the New York-based World Jewish Congress had provided evidence that it has collected against Waldheim.

Both the Justice Department and the Jewish Congress said that their evidence was gathered from public sources, so the commission could find it if it looked for it, commission members said.

The commission had a tiny staff, and some doubts have been raised recently over whether it was able to study all documents that might bear on the Waldheim case.

In particular, the West German magazine Der Spiegel published a telegram earlier this month that it said was found in Yugoslavia and that purportedly implicated Waldheim directly in ordering deportation of civilians to transit points en route to death camps.

The authenticity of the telegram has not been confirmed. But a spate of reports from Yugoslavia have suggested that potentially important material from military archives there was not carefully examined by the commission.