MANAGUA, NICARAGUA, AUG. 31 -- Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole and President Daniel Ortega held an acrimonius public debate today over peace plans and democracy in Central America.

Ortega kept Dole and four other Republican senators waiting nearly 20 minutes, then told them he had a message for President Reagan: "Stop killing the children of Nicaragua, stop violating the rights of the people of Nicaragua."

Dole, who has yet to declare for the GOP presidential nomination, responded that the message he brought was "to give the people of Nicaragua some freedom."

Ortega, angered over an open letter from Dole printed in the Miami Herald, refused to close the meeting to the press. Dole's letter asked when the La Prensa opposition newspaper -- shut down 14 months ago -- would reopen, when a Catholic radio station would reopen and why leaders of a human rights group were arrested.

After several minutes of tense, verbal sparring, Dole asked Ortega when he was going to quit the "pep rally" and begin serious talks on the regional peace plan.

"You sent the letter to the public, so you must want the meeting public," Ortega said. "If you were serious about this meeting, you would have sent me a private letter. This is just propaganda."

Following the hour-long meeting, Dole said he was "disappointed" with Ortega's attitude. "We were only props in his press conference," Dole said. "Certainly he has the right not to receive us. He runs the show here, but we were hoping for a serious discussion of the peace plan."

Accompanying Dole were Republican Sens. John McCain, (Ariz.), Steve Symms (Idaho), Thad Cochran (Miss.), David Karnes-(Neb.) and Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.). All except Kostmayer have consistently voted for U.S. aid to Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras, fighting to overthrow Ortega's Sandinista government.

The senators repeatedly pressed Ortega to release Lino Hernandez, executive secretary of the Permanent Human Rights Commission, detained Aug. 15 after an unauthorized antigovernment rally and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

In response, Ortega pulled out pictures of an American Maryknoll priest he said was arrested and sentenced to nine months in jail for participating in anti-contra demonstrations in the United States.

"I will make a deal with you, that will allow Lino Hernandez to go free right now," Ortega said. "I will let him go if you promise to immediately free this priest, held in your jail for protesting your president's immoral policy of killing Nicaraguans."

Asked when La Prensa would be allowed to reopen under the terms of a regional peace accord signed Aug. 7, Ortega replied, "When the war ends."

Ortega said he was working seriously to fulfill terms of the peace accord, which call specifically for allowing a free press, lifting states of emergency and granting amnesty to combatants who lay down their weapons by Nov. 7.

"If the U.S. stopped acting like an empire, like the Romans, and respected us, and ended the war against us, we would normalize our situation in a very short time," Ortega said.

Earlier, special correspondent Wilson Ring reported from Tegucigalpa on the senators' visit to Honduras:

Dole reaffirmed his support for Nicaraguan rebels and pledged not to abandon them in spite of the peace plan calling for the abolition of foreign aid to all insurgent groups in the region.

The five senators met with Honduran President Jose Azcona and the commander of the Nicaraguan guerrillas yesterday and toured a refugee camp today before leaving for Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Dole and the others had been scheduled to visit one of the contras' base camps in Honduras. The visit was canceled because publicity surrounding the trip could have embarrassed the Honduran government, according to members of the delegation. The Honduran government officially denies the bases exist.

Instead, Dole toured a United Nations-run refugee camp with Sens. Cochran and Karnes. Symms and McCain were flown to one of the contra bases, according to members of Dole's entourage.

Dole and the others met last night for more than an hour with Enrique Bermudez, the military leader of the contras, during a reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Everett Briggs.

"I told {Bermudez} our support was not flagging," said Dole as he toured the refugee camp here in southern Honduras, about 25 miles from the Nicaraguan border.

"The five of us support contra aid and we have no intention of abandoning our friends the contras or any intention of abandoning our friends in Honduras," Dole said at a press conference last night.