LAS MANOS, HONDURAS -- At least 10,000 Nicaraguans came on Saturday to this village near a border crossing that was reopened recently by Nicaragua in the hope of drawing home its citizens living in Honduras.

The border opening is probably the most tangible sign of the current Central American peace process reaching the common people of Nicaragua. The program began last Monday and is to continue indefinitely. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, the border is open to any Nicaraguans -- including refugees and rebels, or contras, under a much heralded amnesty -- who wish to return.

Saturdays, though, are the days for family reunions. Nicaraguan refugees from U.N. refugee camps are given permission to travel to the border. On Saturday, some Nicaraguans came from as far away as their capital in Managua and from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Most came in the hope of being reunited with relatives they had not seen in years. While the ultimate aim of the border program is to draw back Nicaraguans, only about 20 people had taken advantage of the amnesty by midday Saturday. There were no figures on how many had returned before Saturday.

The family reunions took place about 100 feet inside Honduras at the long-closed border crossing, which is about 100 miles southeast of Tegucigalpa and 200 miles northeast of Managua. Until now, the only open border crossing was west of here at El Espino on the main regional highway.

Under the terms of the peace pact signed Aug. 7 in Guatemala City, regional governments must offer amnesty to all political opponents, to take effect Nov. 7. The accord also calls for democratic openings in all countries, a cease-fire in the region's wars and an end to outside support for insurgent groups.

The Honduran government is all for the Las Manos program. Housing hundreds of thousands of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala as well as Nicaragua, Honduras welcomes any program that will repatriate refugees.

For weeks, Sandinista radio stations have been exhorting refugees and anti-Sandinista fighters to return under the amnesty. Inside Nicaragua, posters and leaflets urge the rebels to lay down their arms.

On Saturday, Juan Alberto Lopez, 26, a Sandinista land reform worker from Jicaro, met an older brother whom he had not seen in six years. While Lopez said his brother was not a rebel, he lives in a section of Honduras where the insurgents, known as contras, operate.

"We met, but we almost couldn't talk. The emotions overcame us. He said he was well, but he won't be coming back to Nicaragua now and that's that," Lopez said of his 90-minute meeting with his brother.

Neyda Castilla Moreno, came to Las Manos from nearby Ocotal, Nicaragua, to look for her daughter, who is living in a U.N. refugee camp. "We've written and she said she wants to come back, but she's not here." She asked a reporter if he would pass word to her daughter to come to Las Manos next week so they can return home together.

Standing in a crowd of thousands of Nicaraguans and surrounded by Sandinista soldiers, who listened intently, a five-year anti-Sandinista combat veteran assailed the Nicaraguan government.

"The Sandinistas are promising amnesty. Why don't they give amnesty to the 20,000 political prisoners in Nicaragua? They are liars," said the rebel, Joaquin Ortez, who said he was on leave from the San Jacinto Regional Command of the Army of the Nicaraguan Resistance.

Following that monologue, an elite Nicaraguan Interior Ministry soldier, who refused to give his name, offered his opinion of the Nicaraguan situation: "If they want democracy, {they should} come back to Nicaragua."

"After one has been burned by milk he will be wary of it, even of cheese," said one Nicaraguan Red Cross worker in Spanish. "They will come back when they have more confidence in the government."

The Honduras-Nicaragua border at Las Manos is at the top of a steep mountain road. Firefights between the Honduran and Nicaraguan soldiers have occurred here.