Venezuelan officials say union leader Carlos Ortega has escaped from a prison where he had been serving a sentence of nearly 16 years for his role in a general strike against President Hugo Chavez.

Attorney-General Isaias Rodriguez told state television in a telephone interview Sunday that Ortega escaped from the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas. Rodriguez said three jailed military officers appear to have fled as well.

Last December, Ortega was convicted on charges of instigating a civil rebellion in connection with his role in the strike, which began in December 2002 and ended in early 2003. The strike crippled Venezuela's key oil industry but failed to topple President Chavez.

In 2003, Ortega fled Venezuela for Costa Rica, where he was granted political asylum.

Ortega returned to Venezuela the following year to join opposition efforts to oust Mr. Chavez, who was facing a recall referendum. Ortega was arrested in early 2005.

Ortega is president of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.