International security forces and East Timorese police are searching for at least 56 inmates, including a rebel leader, who have escaped from prison.

Brigadier Mick Slater, the commander of Australian troops in East Timor, said Thursday the prisoners walked out of the front gate of the Becora prison during visiting hours Wednesday. He said troops have sealed off the capital.

Among the prisoners are rebel commander Alfredo Reinado and 20 other militiamen, who were arrested last month for spurring violence in and around the capital in May.

Their escape is stirring fears of a resurgence of that unrest, which began after the former prime minister Mari Alkatiri fired 600 disgruntled soldiers.

Rival security forces fought in the streets of Dili, triggering gang warfare that terrorized parts of the capital.

Thirty people died and another 150,000 fled their homes from the violence.

Reinado and his followers hunkered down in the mountains near Dili, refusing to give up their weapons until the former prime minister resigned. The rebel was charged with attempted murder and weapons offenses.

United Nations police and international security forces have appealed to people to report any information about the prisoners.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters