PARIS, NOV. 2 -- Iraqi troops captured three French soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol this week near the Saudi Arabian border with Iraq, the Defense Ministry reported today. They were later freed.

The soldiers, who were taken captive Monday, were turned over to the French Embassy in Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said in a communique.

It was unclear whether the incident occurred inside Iraqi territory or in Saudi Arabia. A ministry spokesman said later today that the soldiers face disciplinary measures for an "act of carelessness," which suggests the incident was on the Iraqi side of the border.

The ministry initially reported the capture occurred northwest of Hafar al Batin, a desert city in northeastern Saudi Arabia, about 50 miles inside the border.

The French army has opened an investigation of the incident and "will draw all the consequences," the communique said.

A French Defense Ministry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of the captured soldiers: "They committed an error of exceeding their mission. There's a lot of movement around the border right now, and we don't know exactly what happened. The commander who has opened the investigation believes they are responsible."

An Iraqi patrol surprised the French soldiers, who committed no "hostile act," the ministry said, and took them prisoner.

France has sent about 13,000 soldiers to the Persian Gulf region as part of the 200,000-strong multinational force there confronting Iraq, which invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2. Iraq has about 430,000 troops facing them.