GUAPINOL, NICARAGUA -- Two dozen peasants gathered in the quickly fading light of dusk in Nicaragua's northern mountains as a youthful rebel code-named Sheriff denounced the Sandinista government.

"Do those of you whose sons are fighting with us agree that they should accept amnesty?" Sheriff asked.

The assembled peasants responded that they did not. In an ensuing dialogue and subsequent interviews in the yard of an impoverished farmer here, they gave their reasons for supporting the rebels, describing what they said were killings, arrests, torture, rape and forcible relocations at the hands of the Sandinistas.

The scene was a political meeting held by the Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras, near the end of a two-day trek in Jinotega province, about 100 miles north of Managua.

A trip through this area of seemingly solid support for the contras and deep-seated opposition to the Sandinista government suggested that despite a Central American peace accord due to take effect today, Nicaragua's five-year-old war is not about to end.

The trip also revealed a great deal of war-weariness among civilians in the area. But it showed as well that the contras have built a network of informers, couriers, lookouts, food suppliers and medical-support personnel in the area. In addition, contras said, they have been receiving a flurry of airdrops of U.S. supplies inside Sandinista cease-fire areas lately as part of an apparent effort to tide them over a logistical dry spell.

This area is one of traditional support for the contras among peasants, many of whom have sons fighting among what these people call the "commandos." Many also belong to fundamentalist Christian sects that appear to oppose the Sandinista government on religious as well as other grounds.

The trip was arranged in advance by contra officials in Honduras, but peasants interviewed said they had not been told of it beforehand. The visitors interviewed at least 30 civilians and 24 contra combatants, including the young regional commander for this area, Oscar Manuel Sobalvarro Garcia, who uses the code name Ruben.

Contras interviewed expressed determination to fight on, even if the peace accord results in a cutoff of vital U.S. aid. And both civilians and combatants dismissed such Sandinista measures as a partial amnesty and a limited unilateral cease-fire as inadequate to end their resistance. In fact, as a result of a new program of political meetings -- and despite the peace accord -- the contras have even recruited some new fighters in recent weeks.

The trip began when three reporters for American newspapers as well as a British freelancer and an Argentine photographer met by prearrangement with a group of contras Saturday on a road 20 miles north of Jinotega town. The meeting took place 1 1/2 miles from where a squad of Sandinista soldiers was guarding the road for a construction convoy, which passed 20 minutes later with a truckload of 25 Sandinista soldiers in the lead.

From there, the group trekked about 18 miles east and south over the next two days, passing isolated farmhouses that usually consisted of little more than dilapidated wooden shacks with dirt floors. Pigs wandered in and out of these homes and naked children played in the dirt as the peasants talked of their hardships.

The group passed fields of coffee and corn, hiked along narrow trails through open, grassy hills and dense jungle and crossed mountain ridges with spectacular views of green, cloud-filled valleys. The visitors also had to march through a forest before dawn at one point to avoid a Sandinista military post, make an exhausting climb, much of it on all fours, up a steep, jungle-covered peak and clamber up through a rocky, mountain stream to reach a road where -- having departed from the contras -- we eventually hitched a ride on a Sandinista Army truck to Jinotega on Monday.

Commander Ruben said most of his 700-member force was in a northern cease-fire zone receiving new supplies, leaving 40 fighters here who range in age from about 13 to 60. Since the regional peace plan was signed in August, he said, the unit has received seven airdrops, the latest of which came last Thursday night and consisted of 7,000 pounds of munitions and clothes. Ruben said the unit now had enough supplies to last until January.

The picture that emerged of Ruben's unit in this limited setting and time frame was of a relatively well-disciplined force, with no obvious morale problems but a lot of uncertainties over the future. Mostly sons of peasant families in the area, these rebels displayed little political sophistication about the conflict but considerable commitment to it, a dedication seemingly often rooted in what they termed Sandinista abuses earlier in the conflict.

"We survived with no U.S. aid before and we can do it again," said Ruben, 26, the son of a coffee-growing family who has been fighting since 1980. "Without U.S. aid, the war is going to be more difficult, longer and bloodier, and there will be more pressure on the civilian population to stop aiding us. But we have to keep going forward."

Since August, Ruben's unit has been engaged in an apparent effort to counter the aid cutoff that the Central American peace agreement calls for and to avoid the demoralization of having to fight what his brother and fellow contra commander, Danilo, calls a "poor man's war."

Specifically, the unit has been trying to rectify a longstanding contra weakness: the almost total lack of political work among the civilian population. To prepare for the prospect of having to rely more on the local peasantry for support, the contras have been holding political discussions like the one here Sunday evening.

The political message was rudimentary, but the meeting laid bare the resentments and fears of a people caught in a war with no end in sight.

"I hope to God you'll win this war, but if they {the Sandinistas} call us in for questioning, we have to go," an old woman told the contras. "Today we are with you, but tomorrow they will be in our homes asking about you." What should the villagers tell the compas, she wanted to know, using a colloquialism for Sandinista troops. She added, "I'm going to tell the compas what I told them last time: that we're all going to die like dogs around here the way you're fighting."

In an interview afterward, the woman said a brother, two sons and two nephews who had been fighting in the contra ranks had been killed. "My family has been terminated," she said. Then, dropping her voice to a whisper, she added, "I'm afraid of the compas . . . . They are going to find out about this meeting, and I'll regret it. It's dangerous."

The woman complained that in a battle last Thursday, Sandinista shells had fallen around her son's home, covering the area with shrapnel and burning his orange trees.

Tomas Tinoco Lopez, a 42-year-old farmer, said his 7-year-old son, Ramon, was killed when Sandinistas fired at contras who were passing by his house. He said a Sandinista bullet went through a wall and hit his son in the chest as he was eating.

A young man at the meeting who described himself as part of the contras' "civilian resistance" said he was among 15 families forcibly relocated a year ago to a collective farm in Matagalpa province as part of an operation to rid this area of rebel supporters. He said some of the peasants "were taken away with their hands tied behind their backs like prisoners." He said he had escaped "and in spite of everything I returned to this place, risking my life but knowing that one day we are going to be free from this slavery."

According to relatives of Isabel Centeno, a 33-year-old contra who left the movement to live here as a civilian, Sandinista state security agents arrested him May 7 and killed him three days later, saying he was shot while trying to escape.

One relative said another resident, Marciano Meza, was killed in June 1985 after having been "tortured with a knife" by members of a Sandinista counterinsurgency battalion who accused him of being a contra collaborator.

During the trip, other peasants recounted several incidents in which they said suspected civilian supporters of the contras were taken out of their homes and killed by the Sandinistas. Most of the incidents were in the early years of the war, however, and several peasants said Sandinista behavior toward them had improved recently.

Widely expressed complaints were of forcible recruiting by the Sandinista Popular Army, land confiscations and pressure to join cooperatives and militia units. Several contra combatants, including some new adherents, said they had joined the rebels after growing tired of hiding from Sandinista recruitment.

One woman wearing a denim cap took visitors inside her ramshackle house and showed them a bullet hole in her table, the result, she said, of Sandinista firing during a skirmish with a contra unit Oct. 16. She said one of her sons was killed two years ago while fighting the Sandinistas and that another is still with the contras.

"If he comes home on the amnesty, they {the Sandinistas} are going to kill him," she said. "It's better that he die like a man."

At another farmhouse in a different extended hamlet, a 40-year-old farmer named Juan pointed to bullet holes in a wall from a firefight last year. Pasted near the door of his house were several Sandinista posters urging contras to accept amnesty. One warned, "Without bases in Honduras, you have only two choices: return to your home or death."

The 20-member contra unit that accompanied the journalists most of the time paid no attention to the posters and did not appear to hold it against the farmer, a self-described contra supporter, that he had not dared to tear them down.

According to a contra named Franklin, only two fighters in Ruben's 700-member regional command have taken amnesty since the Central American peace accord was signed Aug. 7. During the same period, he said, 25 recruits joined the command, including seven who were interviewed.

"Amnesty? Never," said a twice-wounded fighter called Colombiano, who said he has been fighting since 1981. "I'd prefer to die. I'm convinced we will win militarily if the aid keeps coming, but even without it, we'll keep fighting."

{An incident Tuesday reflected the other side of the war, Branigin reported yesterday from Managua. The Sandinista newspaper Barricada said contras attacked a cooperative near Juigalpa, 106 miles northeast of the capital. It said the attack killed three civilians, whose charred bodies were found in their burned homes, and that seven others were wounded, including 2-month-old and 10-year-old girls.}