Until his civil rights were restored on Feb. 29, Kim Dae Jung was a nonperson in the military-controlled press of South Korea.

The name of the country's most prominent opposition politician was not mentioned in the newspapers or on television. When his presence on the political scene could not be ignored, he was referred to as "a most influential figure in the opposition forces who was once a presidential candidate."

In a group picture with three other politicians and a newspaper publisher, only Kim Dae Jung was not identified by name.

Kim has now emerged from obscurity, but military censorship still restricts his presentation in the media. There are standing instructions to keep his name out of headlines and to avoid exclusive interviews.

If his picture is used, it must be one in which he appears with other people. Television film of him can be shipped out of the country -- but minus the sound track. Scenes of him being cheered by admirers are snipped out.

The continuing censorship of Kim, the widely admired former foe of the late president, Park Chung Hee, is perhaps the most visible evidence of the South Korean military's attempt to play a role in guiding the country's political development in the post-Park era.

To the relief of many in the civilian government and political opposition, that role generally has been restrained. Political prisoners have been released, their rights restored, and a new constitution is being written without overt interference from the group of generals that seized power within the military after Park's assassination in October.

But by continuing press censorship, the martial-law command in directly shaping the political process. Kim's statements urging speedier reforms, early elections and the freeing of more prisoners do not appear in print.

Some editors and reporters take these as signs that the military would try to block Kim's presidential candidacy in next year's election. Several of the new generals have reinforced that suspicion by describing Kim as unacceptable in private conversations with publishers and editors.

Kim doubts that the military would try to keep him out of the race.

"I have no way of knowing, but I do not think they are trying to prevent me being president," he said in an interview. They are just trying to reduce my impact on the public stage. That is my conjecture, anyway."

Since the Dec. 12 insurrection in which the former martial-law commander was arrested, a group of younger generals running the military has given conflicting signals on the democratization that followed Park's death.

At first, they called for a purge of "corrupt" bureaucrats and businessmen, but that crusade has not been pressed, according to reliable sources. Liberal professors, once dismissed and imprisoned, have returned to campus without interference.

The martial-law authorities crack down swiftly, however, on unauthorized protest meetings and issued a stern warning to politicians that an "overheated political atmosphere" will not be tolerated.

Their view of dissent is far stricter than the civilian government's. On Jan. 25, former president Yun Po Sun was given two-year suspended sentence by a military court for sponsoring a protest rally. A few days later, the civilian government offered the former president a position on a prestigious advisory committee on democratization.

The generals have not hesitated to reorganize their own ranks. According to reliable sources, 33 generals have been dismissed since the Dec. 12 uprising. Most of those dismissed were older officers who stood in the way of promotions for younger generals and colonels. Scores more have been reassigned to lesser posts.

The housecleaning has left Gen. Chon Doo Hwan, who directed the Dec. 12 arrests, and three or four other generals in apparent command of the Army. The martial-law commander, Gen. Lee Hui Sung, is regarded by most observers as a figurehead, but outsiders still have no clear picture of who is running things.

Gen.Chon was the target of American military leaders' disapproval because he ordered the movement of troops supposedly under joint U.S.-Korean command on the night of the insurrection. That disapproval has not harmed his career. Last week he was promoted to lieutenant general.

Citizens who deal with the martial-law authorities find them defensive about the December uprising and eager to justify it on ground that it was time to root out corruption and favoritism in the military. None of the criticism of that event, which is widespread in business circles, appears in print.

Martial-law censors refused to let newspapers print a story about a U.S. House subcommittee amendment that would prevent the use of American military sales credits to enforce martial law.