INHAMBANE, MOZAMBIQUE, JULY 23 -- They came before first light, silently entering the remote town from the southwest, armed with AK47 automatic assault rifles, bayonets and machetes.

Within five hours, they had disappeared into the bush, leaving behind a tableau of carnage unprecedented in the seven-year-old civil war that has paralyzed this troubled, once-idyllic country.

By the Mozambican government's account, 386 people -- most of them civilians -- died Saturday in and around the village of Homoine in coastal Mozambique at the hands of anticommunist rebels who have been battling to overthrow the Marxist government of Joachim Chissano. Seventy others were seriously wounded and many more suffered lesser injuries.

Stunned survivors of the massacre said that many of the victims were women and children slain in their beds in the village hospital.

Other villagers who fled to the hospital for refuge were gunned down or hacked to death by the approximately 400 guerrillas of the Mozambican National Resistance movement, survivors interviewed here said.

Mozambican officials said that more than 3,000 people fled the Homoine area, fearing the attackers would return. The officials said the guerrillas have been active in the area for some time.

The attack comes as conservative members of Congress have launched an effort to gain American support for the rebels, known by their Portuguese acronym, Renamo.

Renamo, through its office in Lisbon, has denied involvement in the massacre, suggesting that it could have been a Mozambican government action designed to look like a rebel attack.

Immediately after visiting the stricken town of 10,000 today under a heavy Army guard, Mozambican Prime Minister Mario da Graca Machungo condemned South Africa for providing covert support for the guerrillas and expressed shock that U.S. legislators were considering aid to Renamo. South Africa denies backing the rebels.

Referring to support for such aid by Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Robert Dole (R-Kans.), Machungo told visiting foreign journalists, "I can't understand why they insist to back murderers, without heart, without feelings, without any human feelings. If you are able to kill a pregnant woman in a hospital bed, I think something is not going right in your mind."

The provincial hospital in this coastal city, about 18 miles from Homoine, today struggled to care for 49 of the most seriously wounded survivors.

Ringi Tiamu, an elderly man whose leg was shattered by a bullet, also groped for an explanation for the massacre.

Tiamu, who said he was sleeping in his grass hut when uniformed gunmen kicked in the door and started shooting, said, "I have no idea why. I search for the reason and don't find it."

He said three women and a baby who were sleeping in the hut were killed.

Other survivors said that when the guerrillas entered the town at about 5:30 a.m., they first attacked the police station, but were driven back in a firefight. They then went to the hospital, where they battled with the local militia and began indiscriminately killing the patients.

Officials in Maputo, the capital, said yesterday that most of the victims had been buried.

A semi-official newspaper, Noticias, published photographs today showing bodies of men, women and children lying in the streets of Homoine. "These pictures . . . tell of the terror and suffering that has plunged hundreds of Mozambican families into mourning," the paper said.

It said the photos were taken by an American agronomist, Mark Allen van Koevering, assigned to the area by the Mennonite Central Committee.

{A Mennonite spokeswoman in Akron, Pa., confirmed Thursday that van Koevering was in Mozambique working in the church's relief arm, The Associated Press reported.}

Machungo, without offering specific evidence, blamed the attack on South Africa, which long has been accused by black-ruled front-line states of supplying Renamo. The rebel force originally was formed as an intelligence unit by the former white-ruled government of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

The South African government consistently has denied aiding Renamo, despite recurring allegations to the contrary. Under the 1984 Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique, South Africa agreed not to interfere in Mozambique. Mozambique in turn agreed to expel African National Congress guerrillas seeking to infiltrate across the border into South Africa.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chester A. Crocker yesterday said in a television interview broadcast in Britain that the South African Army took over support of Renamo from the Rhodesians.

The official Mozambican news agency, AIM, charged that rebels who had been infiltrating into the Homoine area had recently received five parachute drops of arms and supplies from South African planes. In response, the South African Foreign Ministry said today, "The South African government has repeatedly stated that it is not providing assistance of any kind" to Renamo.

The Mozambican government, citing continuing attacks by the rebels, did not permit foreign journalists to travel to Homoine today, saying the trip would require a military convoy for protection.