YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar started releasing nearly 70 political prisoners Tuesday, just days after the president promised during a European tour to free all who remain behind bars by the end of the year.
The continued incarceration of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, which is in the process of opening up following decades of isolation and brutal military rule, has been a key concern of the United States and other Western nations.
Around 200 were believed to be behind bars before Tuesday's releases began.
Activists have accused President Thein Sein's government of only releasing political prisoners in small batches and usually for public relations purposes.
At the same time, said Anna Roberts, executive director of Burma Campaign UK, scores of peaceful protesters continue to be arrested, tried and convicted.
"It's welcome when political prisoners are being released, but it's important to remember that many still remain in prison and all the repressive laws that put them there are still in place," she said.
Last month alone, the group said 70 new activists were facing trial.
Ye Aung, a member of the government's political prisoner scrutiny committee, said in total 69 persons were released from various prisons across the country on Tuesday.
Some were seen by The Associated Press as the gates of the jails opened.