Hundreds of Ugandan civilians were killed after Israel's dramatic rescue of hostages at Entebbe airport last July, Ugandan Bishop Festo Kivengere said here this week.

The killings were done to save face for the government of President Idi Amin and "to cover the embarrassment" that the rescue was made despite the presence at the airport of "two battalions of soldiers," the bishop said.

Bishop Kivengere, one of five Ugandan Anglican bishops who have fled the country said that he is in the United States to talk to church groups. He was a colleague of Archbishop Janani Luwum, who died under mysterious circumstances in Uganda last month.

The bishop said an exact number of deaths following the Entebbe rescue is not available because such information is suppressed in Uganda.

"The people live in fear," he explained in an interview here. Anyone with knowledge of such political assassinations is "in danger of being killed," he said.

Churches are aware of the situation, he said, because "orphans and the widows are in our churches."

What is now being reported about ruthlessness and terror in Uganda, in the wake of the deaths of Archbishop Luwum and two Christian Cabinet members, is "but the tip of the iceberg," the bishop said.

"The method of ruling by killing always produces insecurities among those who practice it. Every killing has only made the regime more insecure," he said.

Archbishop Luwum and the two Cabinet members were arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the government. According to Amin, the three men died in an automobile accident after they allegedly tried to overpower their military escort. Other reports indicated that the three had been shot to death.

Bishop Kivengere denied that the archbishop was involved in a plot and cited a "surprise attack" on the archbishop's residence Feb. 5. Soldiers, Bishop Kevengere said, "came at 1:30 in the morning and searched his house, and not a thing was found."

The archbishop was killed, Bishop Kivengere said, "because he has been too straight for President Amin - he has spoken out on his own and with all the bishops together on the brutalities and depravities" of Amin's rule.

Bishop Kivengere, who was with the archbishop at the time of the arrest, said the last words he heard the archbishop speak were: "I haven't told you before, but I have been informed by a girl who overheard some soldiers speaking in Swahili saying, 'The first person we must get rid of is this (archbishop)."

Bishop Kivengere, one of 18 Ugandan Anglican bishops, said Uganda is in the hands of soldiers, many of whom have been imported from Amin's tribal area in the Southern Sudan, he said. Sudan borders Uganda to the north.

"The law in Uganda has gone under, and the gun has come up," the bishop said. "The good name of our country can only come back when the law replaces the gun.

"Having set the machinery in motion, Amin has no power to call it back. He is caught in his own chaos," the bishop said.

Bishop Kivengere thinks other countries should bring pressure on Uganda, if necessary by establishing economic boycotts. As an example of Ugandan trade, he noted that what he termed "Amin's jet" continues to transport 10 tons of coffee to Britain each week.

Bishop Kivengere said the future of the Christian church in Uganda is very strong. "The church began with this sort of thing. I don't think this strain will have a detrimental effect. . . . The death of the archbishop has deepened the dedication of Christians in Uganda," he said.

The bishop said that 4,500 persons gathered at Kampala's Anglican cathedral Feb. 13 for Archbishop Luwum's funeral but that the government refused to release his body. A "thanksgiving service" was held instead, and after the service, worshipers "went to the empty grave that had been dug for him and stood singing hymns," he said.

Anglicans and Roman Catholics are the two major Christian congregations in Uganda. The bishop said that 8 million of 11 million Ugandans are Christian and tha tmost of the rest are Moslems, as is Amin.

Bishop Kivengere discounted suggestions that religious warfare is involved. Moslem-Christian animosities are "being used, but I can tell you that good Moslems in Uganda have been friends of Christians," he said.

Ugandan churches are scheduled to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the introudction of Christianity there later this year, the bishop said.

"Amin has called the bishops and told them to go ahead with the centenary celebration," the bishop said.