Asia

Burma announces release of 69 political prisoners

File image of the gates at Rangoon's Insein prison
Image caption Burma has freed many political prisoners since reforms in 2010

Burmese officials have said they are releasing 69 political prisoners, including the grandchildren of a former leader of the country.

The release is part of President Thein Sein's promise to free all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year.

The move comes amid a visit by high-profile guests, including officials from the European Union.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has freed scores of political prisoners since steps towards democracy began in 2010.

Campaigners said before this release that there were 133 political prisoners still in jail.

Among the freed detainees were former leader General Ne Win's grandchildren, who were sentenced to death 11 years ago for allegedly trying to stage a coup.

Naw Ohn Hla, a prominent female activist sentenced to two years in jail in August for opposing a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine, was also to be freed.

The release is a tangible sign of the progress that has been made - three years ago, there were more than 1,000 detainees, says the BBC's Jonah Fisher in neighbouring Thailand.

"Today's release is of course welcome, but the fact remains that there are many imprisoned for peaceful activism still behind bars in Myanmar," says Isabelle Arradon, Asia Pacific deputy director of human rights group Amnesty International.

"President Thein Sein has promised to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year, but time is running out for the government to show that this was not just empty words."

The president has introduced major reforms since the elections of November 2010, which saw military rule replaced by a military-backed civilian government.

A number of political prisoners have been freed and media restrictions have been eased. The opposition has also rejoined the political process.

In response, most international sanctions against Burma have been relaxed.