CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ A man whose ex-wife went to jail rather than let him visit their children appeared in court Wednesday on charges of sexually assaulting his young daughter.

Mark Russell Murabito, 33, of Derry, entered no plea to the charge of felonious sexual assault in Rockingham County Superior Court in Exeter, though his lawyer has said he will plead innocent. Bail was set at $5,000 personal recognizance on the condition that Murabito have no contact with the girl, now 5, or her 3 1/2 -year-old brother.

A grand jury indicted Murabito based on events since March 1987, when a Superior Court judge found no evidence to back Jesse Murabito's claims that her husband molested their daughter and gave him unsupervised visits with the children.

The case attracted national attention last year when Mrs. Murabito, now 39, spent a week in jail rather than reveal where she had secreted the children from their father.

After the arraignment Wednesday, Murabito's lawyer, Raymond Kellett, said the charge ''is simply an extension of the divorce proceedings ... the same type of thing that the court has already ruled on in hearings last year.''

But County Attorney Carleton Eldredge said the animosity between the parents is not part of the case.

''I am fairly convinced by the evidence, or I wouldn't have gone to the grand jury, that these children are being sexually abused,'' he said.

Eldredge said he had hoped to keep the indictment quiet and reach a settlement with Murabito that would protect the children ''without public fanfare or trial.'' But he said the opportunity was ruined by The Associated Press, which had learned of the indictment.

Eldredge said the indictment was based on conduct since March 1987, when Superior Court Judge Douglas Gray, after a seven-day civil hearing, said Mrs. Murabito and experts she marshalled had not proven Murabito sexually abused the girl.

In a 19-page divorce decree, Gray admonished both parents to stop ''tearing (the children) to pieces'' and gave Murabito unsupervised visits.

Gray did not return a telephone call Wednesday.

About a month before the divorce hearing, Gray had jailed Mrs. Murabito for a week - and gave Murabito temporary custody - when she refused to obey a court order to let her husband see the children during supervised visits. Gray released her after she agreed to supervised visits.

Deanna Crawford, a spokeswoman from Nashua Rape and Assault Support Services, a victim's advocacy group supporting Mrs. Murabito, said she's pleased the allegation finally will be heard in a criminal court ''where it belongs,'' rather than the civil divorce court.