TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS, JULY 23 -- A Nicaraguan accountant who said he was kidnaped by Nicaraguan rebels to serve in their army has escaped and is in the custody of the U.N. refugee agency here, according to U.N. and rebel sources.

The man, Omar Navas, 35, reportedly was brought to Tegucigalpa by the rebels, known as counterrevolutionaries or contras, to deny press reports of his kidnaping. But instead of appearing at a contra press conference as expected, he climbed out the window of his hotel room and sought assistance, according to a contra source.

The Navas case highlights continuing reports by Nicaragua's Sandinista government and foreign observers that the contras make a practice of kidnaping young men to serve in their army. The rebels reportedly have had difficulty attracting new recruits recently as they come to the end of their $100 million aid package from the United States.

Navas could be returned to his family in Nicaragua within a week, according to a source at the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees here.

Navas was interviewed by foreign correspondents in May at a rebel base in Honduras. He told them that he had been pulled off a bus in April along with 15 to 20 other men near his hometown, Siuna, in the Caribbean coastal region of Nicaragua. He said they were to be pressed into service to fight the Sandinistas.

He told the journalists that he was apolitical and simply wanted to return to his family in Nicaragua.

The contra source said Navas was brought to Tegucigalpa last week from a rebel base in Nicaragua. Bosco Matamoros, military spokesman of the Nicaraguan Resistance, a rebel coalition, had planned to hold a press conference and have Navas refute a New York Times story that told of his kidnaping. He was then to be released, the source said.

Navas foiled Matamoros' plans by climbing out the window of his hotel room, the contra source said. He appeared Saturday at the U.N. office, a source there said.

Navas, who suffers from serious foot problems, was otherwise in good physical condition when he entered U.N. care, the contra source said.

The U.N. refugee agency has refused to allow reporters to meet with Navas.

{Jorge Rosales, a spokesman in the rebels' Miami office, released a statement saying Navas was a prisoner of war who had been taken "to a place where he could receive better medical attention" for "an old ailment of the feet." It said he had decided "to seek attention on his own" and is now at the U.N. office. The spokesman said he did not know if Navas had been a Sandinista combatant or why he was described in the statement as a prisoner of war.}

Last October, shortly after Congress gave final approval to $100 million in aid for the insurgents, rebel leaders predicted that their forces would number 30,000 fighters by now. Instead, recruiting is barely keeping up with casualties and defections and the total contra strength has hovered around 15,000 for months, according to figures provided by a western diplomat in Tegucigalpa.

A second rebel source said the recruiting problems were caused primarily by the Sandinista practice of forcibly relocating civilians out of war zones so there is only a small pool of potential recruits available.

Rebel military leader Enrique Bermudez said last week that recruiting would improve as Nicaraguans gained confidence in the rebels.

"The people will decide to participate when they see we are winning," he said.

One of the most consistent charges of human rights abuses against the rebels during their war against the Sandinistas has concerned the kidnaping of men and women. One human rights official in Tegucigalpa estimated that at least several hundred Nicaraguans had been kidnaped by the rebels.

In some cases, however, legitimate rebel volunteers have said they were kidnaped to protect their families in Nicaragua from Sandinista retribution.

Both rebel leaders and their U.S. advisers have said they want the kidnaping to stop because of the ill feeling it creates toward the contras inside Nicaragua and in the United States.