A computer company filed a suit yesterday against The Alexandria Gazette Corp., parent of the suburban newspaper which proclaims itself as America's oldest daily, seeking the return of a $46,000 computer system.

Carlyn Computer Systems Inc. of Annandale claimed in the suit, filed in Alexandria Circuit Court, that The Gazette Corp. owes more than $36,000 on an IBM computer, printer and display station that the computer firm delivered to the newspaper company in June. The Gazette was to pay the balance upon delivery, but it didn't, the suit alleges.

The Gazette, which paid a $9,183 down payment on the system, has declined to return the computer system unless Carlyn returns the down payment, according to the suit.

The Gazette, which says it has a daily circulation of 31,000, was reported to be in financial trouble several years ago. The paper's editor and publisher, George Mair, said yesterday that the Gazette's finances have never been better. "That's the real story," he said.

The financial standing of the paper was "irrelevant" to the suit, he said. "The dispute is who's going to pay whom what first."

The suit alleged the Gazette is not entitled to the return of its down payment because contract agreements stated Carlyn would keep any payments made if the contract was broken. Carlyn is seeking a court order for return of the computer system.