KHAFJI, Saudi Arabia -- A convoy of overloaded Mercedes Benzes, BMWs and Chevrolets streamed across the border into Saudi Arabia yesterday as thousands of Kuwaitis rushed for a newly opened border station amid a growing atmosphere of panic in the Kuwaiti capital.
An estimated 5,000 or more Kuwaiti refugees fled over the weekend in what officials here said appears to be a new effort by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to drive Kuwaitis out of their homeland and establish an immovable Iraqi foothold in the embattled gulf sheikdom.
Kuwait's government-in-exile, alarmed at the growing exodus and the atmosphere of terror that has prompted it, is considering a move to call for United Nations-sanctioned military intervention to check the crisis, according to diplomatic sources in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Residents fleeing Kuwait said Iraqi soldiers over the past several days had shot 21 Kuwaitis who refused to display a picture of the Iraqi president, gunned down 12 doctors for allegedly inadequate treatment of an Iraqi soldier and shot to death several young Kuwaiti men at their homes in front of their parents.
The Kuwaiti government-in-exile called the Iraqi-inspired exodus "a new political game" designed to drive Kuwaitis out of their country and replace them with Iraqis. "Its aim is to get all of the Kuwaiti people out of Kuwait," the government said.
Officials also fear that Iraq may use the refugee influx to plant terroristsinside Saudi Arabia, a scenario that kept refugees queued up at the border for hours yesterday as Saudi officials carefully searched their cars, including trunks and undercarriages, and pored over whatever personal documents they had remaining.
Saudi officials for several weeks have feared that Iraq is attempting to establish a large core group of Iraqis within Kuwait holding Kuwaiti passports, a scenario that could allow Mr. Hussein to establish a pro-Iraqi government in Kuwait even if his troops were withdrawn.
"In another six months, you can dislodge Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, but you won't be able to get Kuwait back," a Saudi official said in an interview before the weekend exodus began. "Six months from now, the emir [of Kuwait] can come back, and the Kuwaitis [will] say, 'Hell no, we don't want him.' And most Kuwaitis saying this would be Iraqis, and guess who they would vote for."
Diplomats and government officials said it is also likely that the Iraqis are seeking to cause problems for Saudi Arabia, which is already seeking to house some 120,000 refugees in hotels, apartments and temporary housing all over the kingdom.
The refugees who streamed across the border yesterday represented a broad cross-section of the Kuwaiti middle class.
Miriam Sharyan said Iraqi troops were breaking into homes to steal food and had shot three Kuwaiti teen-age boys in her neighborhood.
"It's horrible. You can't believe it," she said, breaking into tears. 00 "They are animals inside, not soldiers."
Saudi officials said that 1,800 Kuwaitis had crossed the border by Saturday night, and diplomatic sources in Riyadh said that as many as 8,000 had crossed by last night.