A peace agreement hailed last month as a cure for this nation's 20 years of government-sponsored terror appears to be foundering.

The main beneficiary of the agreement, rebel leader Yoweri Museveni, whose army already has annexed a third of this East African country, has refused for nearly a month to come here to the capital and assume his position as a co-equal in running all of Uganda.

Museveni has not come to Kampala, where he is supposed to become vice chairman of the ruling Military Council, because he says the town is "not safe." He said this week that he will not come until Uganda's military government stops its soldiers from preying on civilians, and eliminates the killing and looting that have escalated since the peace agreement was signed in Nairobi, Kenya, on Dec. 17.

The balding, mustachioed leader of the National Resistance Army, has chosen, instead, to remain in the rebel-held southwest with his army of 10,000 soldiers.

In the meantime, this crumbling, potholed capital is in limbo. In the past, there is the legacy of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, who presided over an era of state-instigated violence that killed about 500,000 Ugandans, according to accepted estimates, and demolished much of what once was the region's most developed country. In the future, there are the promises of "stability, prosperity, national unity and democracy" from the peace agreement.

For the present, however, Museveni is unwilling to come to town, and the seven hills upon which Kampala is built continue to echo at night with reports of the automatic weapons that the agreement was supposed to have silenced. Roads leading south and west out of this city, all of which were to be cleared by the accord, remain blocked by Kalashnikov-toting young men who ask motorists: "What have you brought for me?"

Tens of millions of dollars of international aid is on hold, waiting for Museveni, as is a $286 million government plan to demobilize and resettle about 100,000 Ugandan soldiers to their farms and villages.

Hundreds of these soldiers, according to western diplomats and militia commanders here, are waiting for Museveni by getting in some "last-chance" looting, raping, car-theft and cattle-rustling.

Roman Catholic Bishop Matthias Ssekamanya said this week that looting and raping in the Mpigi area, about nine miles southwest of Kampala, have increased sharply since the peace agreement.

"How long can we sit around and wait? That is the question I want to put to Museveni," said Lutaakome Kayiira, a member of the Military Council and commander of one of the four rival fighting forces that in the past month have carved up Kampala. Nearly every night, these militias exchange gunfire on the borders of their territories.

"I wish Museveni would say either, 'I am coming,' or, 'I am not coming.' Then we will see what we can do. . . . If he wants to ignore the peace agreement and invade Kampala, let him invade tomorrow; at least we will know what is happening."

A banner headline in this week's Star, the country's main English-language daily, summed up Kampala's weariness with two decades of bloodshed and its impatience for the arrival of the only man many Ugandans think can bring the violence to an end. It pleaded: "Please, Museveni, come to Kampala."

The peace agreement gives the rebels equal representation on the Military Council and in commanding the country's armed forces. It sets up a procedure for a reconnaissance team to "identify the positions of all the combatant forces and thereafter to determine the size of the monitoring observer force required" to help disarm soldiers and demilitarize Kampala.

But no part of the peace agreement can be put in motion unless Museveni cooperates. He is supposed to appoint members of the Military Council and participants in the reconnaissance team and has done neither.

The Kenyan government has sent 37 soldiers to Kampala, as the core of the reconnaissance team. They are supposed to work with government and rebel representatives. But with no rebel representatives in town, the Kenyans are cooling their heels.

A spokesman for the National Resistance Army said in Nairobi that Museveni cannot participate in the peace agreement because the Ugandan government "does not make people safe. If you are going to have shootings and killings, you cannot do very much.

"We cannot just show up. Kampala has to be demilitarized. We very much want to implement it the agreement . But these other people want to play tricks."

The National Resistance Army has accused the government of killing more than 300 persons since the December accord was signed. The government, in turn, accused the NRA last weekend of violating the accord by launching an attack against Army positions about 30 miles southwest of here. The NRA called the charge "nonsense."

Since the agreement was signed there have been frequent local press reports of atrocities by government soldiers. Lt. Gen. Basilio Olara Okello, commander of Uganda's armed forces, has ordered that all such reports be cleared by a "press security committee."

The check is needed, Okello said, "to minimize misinformation and conflict between the press and security forces." The Ugandan Journalists Association today refused to participate in the press committee or to submit its stories for review.

Nearly four weeks of accusations between the government and the rebels have created a vicious circle. The rebels say they cannot participate in the peace accord because of the violence. The government says the violence cannot stop until rebels come to Kampala and help implement the agreement.

The accord was to have ended five months of civil war that broke out here shortly after a July coup brought down the Obote government. The coup was led by senior Army officers, who took control of the government.

Prior to the coup, Museveni, a one-time minister of defense in the government, had been fighting a rebel war against Obote for four years in the southwest of the county. After the coup, Museveni refused to cooperate with the new generals in power. The country's four other major fighting forces -- which since have carved up Kampala -- did join the Army in a coalition government.

But Museveni, who calls himself an "intellectual" forced by "state-inspired violence" to become a soldier, launched a military campaign that won him control of the richest, most fertile third of Uganda.

His 10,000 soldiers managed to do this without the looting and raping generally associated with the Ugandan government forces. Museveni's forces remain popular in the southwest, and residents of Kampala say they still hope that Museveni's cooperation in a new government will stop the uniformed men with machine guns who continue to hijack cars and break into homes.

The rebel spokesman in Nairobi said that violence since the peace accord has hurt Museveni's credibility with his followers.

"The leadership of the NRA is being ridiculed by our supporters because of the continued violence. We are exposed," the spokesman said. He added that unless the violence stopped, "we will have to act."

There was one indication this week, however, that Museveni is trying to persuade his lieutenants in the NRA to accept the agreement. Two senior Kenyan officials spent four days with Museveni, traveling in the rebel-held southwest. The Kenyans, under the leadership of President Daniel arap Moi, had pressured both sides to sign the peace agreement after four months of haggling. According to a western diplomat here, Museveni used the Kenyans to try to reassure his followers that the peace agreement would be to their benefit.

If the NRA were to abrogate the agreement and resume its war against the government, militia commanders and western diplomats here believe that Museveni probably could take Kampala but that he could not control the country.

"He could win the battle of Kampala if he wanted," said Military Council member Kayiira, who is also the head of the Uganda Freedom Movement. "But he could not win the war of Uganda. He would be facing the same kind of guerrilla war in the north that he fought so well in the south."