Travelers from Libya reported unrest today in the Jabal Akhdar mountains of eastern Libya and said armed rebels may have joined escaped prisoners in an uprising against the government.

Many Libyans believe that the unrest is part of a plan to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and that its leader is Col. Khalifa Haftar, of a contra-style group based in the United States called the Libyan National Army, the travelers said.

The rebel army is the military wing of the Salvation Front for the Liberation of Libya, the main opposition in exile. Haftar was a senior officer in the Libyan army in Chad in the 1980s but was taken prisoner. When he and several hundred other POWs refused to go home after the war, the United States gave them asylum and training facilities.

The travelers, whose accounts could not be confirmed independently, said they heard that the death toll has risen to 23 in five days of fighting between security forces and rebels, including men who escaped from Benghazi prison Thursday and then fled into the eastern mountains.

The official Libyan news agency JANA said Sunday that the fighting was between security forces and a gang that smuggled heroin from Israel. It said several members of the gang had been killed.

A taxi driver said government forces captured one group of prisoners near the Mediterranean town of Derna but others escaped up a valley that runs into the mountains. He said troops have "closed the coast road and cut off all telephone links so that the trouble doesn't spread."

Today, a Libyan envoy held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for almost two hours, and gave Mubarak a letter from Gadhafi. No details were given.