EL ALMENDRO, NICARAGUA -- Miguel Altamirano spent five of his 19 years wearing camouflage fatigues and shouldering an AK-47 assault rifle. Now in a cheap T-shirt and rolled-up blue jeans, he lugs only a bag of donated rice and beans.

"I feel funny," he said, examining his new clothes with distaste. "But now that we have democracy, its better to be a civilian. I hope."

Altamirano is one of the more than 13,000 rebels, known as contras, who have turned over their weapons to U.N. peacekeeping forces. International observers from the United Nations and the Organization of American States expect the remaining 1,000 to 2,000 rebels to disarm during the next few days.

All of the rebels who had gathered at one of five "security zones" set up last April to receive them and their weapons already have been disarmed. In the other zones, hundreds of ex-contras are being processed and trucked out a day.

Disarmament in the two zones set up on the Atlantic Coast for Miskito and other Indian rebels is proceeding more slowly. About 700 of the approximately 1,300 members of the Indian guerrilla group known as Yatama had not yet turned in their weapons as of Tuesday.

"There is goodwill on {the rebels'} part. They seem to want to disarm as quickly as possible," said an international observer here. "The only limitation is how fast we can process them."

A lightly armed U.N. battalion sent from Venezuela is in charge of collecting the weapons and destroying them. So far, most of the weapons turned in are assault rifles, but some grenade launchers and mortars have been given up as well.

None of the more sophisticated Red Eye antiaircraft missiles that were supplied by the United States in 1987 has been turned in, U.N. officials say.

After turning over the weapons to the U.N. forces, the ex-guerrillas are given an identity card verifying their disarmament and turned over to OAS observers who provide them with a medical examination, new clothes and a bag of provisions.

Most of the ex-guerrillas are peasants who plan to return to the rural areas they left years ago. Others plan to stay in the "development pole" that the government has agreed to establish near this town in Zone No. 5, a sparsely populated area in the hills of southeastern Nicaragua. Under the agreement, the government promises to provide the community with schools, drinkable water, electricity, hospitals and roads. The ex-combatants will be given individual titles to farmland and help in starting cooperative enterprises.

Olive-green or camouflage-clad guerrillas still waiting to disarm fill the small town's streets and roam the countryside. Although some residents have barred their doors and left town to avoid the crowd of ex-rebels, most seemed content to mingle with the guerrillas who once fought the Sandinista army in the surrounding hills.

"It's such a joy to know that the fighting is over," said Juana Marina Aragon who was sharing her small farmhouse and handing out fresh tortillas and beans to half a dozen rebels. "It's a burden, but we're trying to help them as much as we can."

Even some Sandinista supporters say they are learning to live with their former adversaries.

Until recently, Jose Angel Lopez was a member of State Security, the Sandinista network of police informants. A few months ago, he would have feared for his life had he met a contra rebel in the countryside. Now he chats easily with rebel commanders in the streets of his hometown, making no secret of his Sandinista militancy.

"We've played a few games of baseball and we're getting to know each other," Lopez said. "Only a few ignorant people on both sides still want to make trouble."

Although the contras remain suspicious of the Sandinista army's intentions, most seemed ready to make peace with the military rank and file.

"They've killed us, and we've killed them. In that way we're the same," said Eliceo Sanchez, a 30-year-old guerrilla who joined the rebel forces when they were formed nearly 10 years ago. "I have nothing against the soldiers. They were just following orders."

But Sanchez, echoing the views of more than a dozen guerrillas interviewed, demanded that the Sandinista army and militia also turn over their weapons.

"We're taking the risk {of disarming first} to prove we only fought for freedom," he said. "Now it's their turn."

Rebel suspicion of the Sandinista army and militia delayed demobilization until recently. Although the guerrillas were supposed to start turning in their weapons on April 25, the day President Violeta Chamorro took office, less than 2,000 did so during the first month.

They were supposed to finish disarming all of their troops by June 10, but the process only picked up steam after May 30, when the government and rebel leaders signed an agreement establishing the "development pole" in the department of Rio San Juan near El Almendro.

The ex-rebels are also promised participation in the local government and in a rural police force. Members of the force will be trained by foreign advisers and eventually incorporated into Nicaragua's regular police forces.

Sandinista leaders, including former president Daniel Ortega, have attacked the agreement as promising the ex-guerrillas benefits unavailable to the rest of the population. They also accuse the government of ceding territory to the contras.

Rebel leaders, however, say they need to establish their own community to reassure those who fear reprisals from Sandinista supporters if they return to their home towns.