MANAGUA, NICARAGUA, NOV. 2 -- American religious volunteer Paul Fisher, in his first full account of 14 days as a captive of the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels, said today his captors were welcomed by local farmers and had moved freely in much of a vast tropical forest they marched him through.

"I think they own central Zelaya," said Fisher, referring to a remote central Nicaraguan province where the rebels, known as contras, have centered their operations. His report provided a look at the contras' influence in a hard-to-reach region they have called the cradle of their armed movement.

Fisher, 41, an electronics specialist from Mill Valley, Calif., and a Nicaraguan agronomist, Rolando Mena, were released Friday in the hamlet of El Negro, 150 miles northeast of Managua, into the custody of an American priest, the Rev. Jim Feltz, and American photographer Paul Dix. Fisher and Dix work with Witness for Peace, a religious group that monitors the war in Nicaragua and is opposed to U.S. aid for the contras.

Fisher and Mena were seized at gunpoint Oct. 17 by contras who stopped a bus near the town of Santo Domingo, in southern Chontales province. The contras claimed they first mistook Fisher for a Russian, he reported in a two-hour interview.

Fisher said he and Mena were forced to trek on foot and muleback for about 65 miles during five almost sleepless days through tropical forest -- and through one frightening firefight with a Sandinista Army patrol -- north to El Negro.

But Fisher said that what started out as a terrifying kidnap turned into a "Cook's Tour of contraland."

After determining Fisher was American, the contra unit of the Jorge Salazar Regional Command radioed to a headquarters in neighboring Honduras for instructions, Fisher said. (Honduras, with a regional peace accord due to take effect Nov. 5, recently has denied that contra command posts are based in its territory.)

Although the radioed response was to free Fisher immediately, a field commander apparently decided to show the American some of what contra fighters called "Free Nicaragua."

A mid-level commander named "Pirate" led the way with a 30-guerrilla patrol. "Once we got into central Zelaya, the ranchers were absolutely fraternizing with the commandos. They all knew each other. The {contras} didn't seem to sense any more danger," Fisher recounted.

Fisher said once in the deep forests, the contras marched with radios blaring music and with their AK47 rifles at ease at their sides. He recalled that the at-home feeling in central Zelaya contrasted with the tension of the first leg of the march, further south in Chontales, scene last month of some of the most sustained combat with government Sandinista troops in the five-year war.

There, Fisher said, the contras "didn't seem to know the people they were staying with." In one hamlet, a peasant mother gathered up her six children and bolted "hell for leather" into the woods to get away from the contras, Fisher said.

Fisher, exhausted and nursing a severe mouth infection, said he was not interrogated or physically abused by his abductors or made to carry heavy packs, as some kidnap victims have reported.

But he said he was tailed everywhere and verbally "tormented" by a guard with the war name "Charlie May," and was unable to sleep more than a few hours in two weeks because of the nightly chill, since the contras provided no cover.

"They weren't equipped to kidnap people in comfort," Fisher said. His experience indicated that the contras continue to engage in widespread kidnapings of civilians, primarily as a forced recruitment tactic. One contra fighter had a roster of about 100 civilians he personally kidnaped in several years of war, Fisher said.

In a one-hour meeting Oct. 29, a veteran contra field commander called "Quiche" gave Fisher a message to carry to the opposition daily La Prensa and the Catholic Radio in Managua concerning the peace accords, which were signed Aug. 7 in Guatemala by the five Central American presidents.

In the emotional appeal, as relayed by Fisher, Quiche said his forces want to see a dialogue between the highest leaders of the Nicaraguan Resistance, the main contra alliance, and President Daniel Ortega "because we are dying in the mountains and leaving our blood in the countryside."

Quiche rejected the leftist Sandinista government's demand for bilateral talks with Washington because, he said, "there are no gringos fighting here, only Nicaraguans." Last week, the ruling Sandinista party said there would "no way, never" be a "political dialogue" with the contra leadership, which it dismissed as "U.S. mercenaries."

Fisher said his captors told him only Sandinista infiltrators had accepted a government amnesty under the peace plan, and said the contras seemed "willing to fight for another ten years."

Describing himself as a pacifist and a "Jeffersonian Republican," Fisher said his antiwar views remain unchanged by his abduction, and added that he was appalled to discover most contra fighters were young teen-agers.

"I'm sadder than ever about this war," Fisher concluded. "I think those 14-year-old boys are just more victims of the conflict. They're professional soldiers. All they know how to do in life is wake up and march and kill people they think are communists."