Two French and three British citizens lying low in southeast Iraq fled to Saudi Arabia aboard an inflatable dinghy, dodging Iraqi naval patrols and minefields in a choppy Persian Gulf.

At the same time, hundreds of Kuwaitis continued to flee their occupied country for Saudi Arabia.Authorities made the escape of the five men public Thursday, giving them a chance to rest.

The men said they planned the escape for about five weeks and told friends they were going fishing, arranging to meet a tugboat in the gulf. But they missed the ship.

"Unfortunately the charts we had to go by were old," said Ivan Manning, 44, a British citizen. "Our navigation was very hit and miss; we were totally off course."

When they realized they would not be picked up as planned, the group had no choice but to navigate toward the Saudi Arabian coast, risking that they would be discovered by one of the many Iraqi warships that patrol the area.

At one point they almost put in at Kuwait City, thinking it was the town on the Saudi side of the border they were trying to reach.

Manning, Mike Teesdale and Keith Barkworth of Britain and Amedee du Paty de Clam and Jamel Cellier of France made the escape in 25 hours Monday and Tuesday, aided only by the obsolete navigation chart and the starlit sky.

The former hostages said they planned their escape while discussing the worsening crisis in Basra in southeast Iraq, where they were employed on an engineering project.

They provided few details, but it was believed they were picked up by a Japanese vessel and transferred to a Saudi coast guard vessel before being taken to a town on the Kuwaiti border.

Barkworth is a sea captain, Teesdale and Manning officials of a marine loading company.

Manning and the others said there were Americans where they had been staying, but they declined to provide specifics. "We know of some information that will be passed on. They're OK," said Manning."We felt we were more at risk staying there," said Barkworth, discussing how they decided to dash for freedom under the guise of a fishing trip.

At the border town, officials said as many as 200 Kuwaitis a day are reaching Saudi Arabia, their cars searched thoroughly for explosives and weapons. Most were women and children and older men, said an official who asked not to be named.

Their passports and other papers were seized by the Iraqis, the official said, adding that it appeared many young Kuwaiti men remained in hiding rather than risk being picked up on a public trip to the border.

Other sources confirmed that linguists at the border were talking to those who presented themselves as Kuwait refugees to guard against infiltration by Iraqi terrorists.

The refugees were given 2,000 Saudi rials, approximately $555, and provided with temporary housing until they could get settled in other Saudi towns.

Additionally, the official said two Iraqi officers, a captain and a lieutenant, defected Wedneday night.