Nearly $6 million from Peoples Temple bank accounts in Panama was returned to the United States yesterday, the Justice Department announced.

The action, made with the cooperation of a court-appointed receiver for the cult and the government of Panama, clears the way for possible reimbursement of $4.3 million to the federal government for costs incurred in bringing home the bodies of 900 followers of the Rev. Jim Jones who died in a mass suicide-murder in Guyana in November 1978.

The Justice Department filed a civil suit to recover expenses in January 1979. Since last April, Justice has been working with receiver Robert Fabian to find the Panama accounts and arrange for the funds transfer.

A Justice official said $4.35 million of the funds has been placed in an account in San Francisco to be available if the department wins its suit. The suit has been delayed while both Justice and Fabian worked to locate and negotiate for the return of the funds, he said.

The Peoples Temple also faces damage claims in California state court from survivors of the massacre. The rest of the money returned to the United States yesterday was placed in an account to cover those claims.

Under an agreement signed last April by Justice attorneys and Fabian, the U.S. government has first claims on any recovered Peoples Temple assets.