Myanmar's ruling military junta has freed one of the country's best known, longest-imprisoned dissidents as part of a general release of almost 4,000 prisoners, a member of the dissident's family said yesterday.
Student activist Paw U Tun, who goes by the name Min Ko Naing, is one of several dozen political prisoners who believed to have been released since Thursday, when the junta said it was suspending the terms of 3,937 prisoners.
It said they had been wrongly charged by a state intelligence agency.
There was no indication, however, that Myanmar's most famous political prisoner -- Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi -- would be freed from house arrest. She has been held since May last year.
However, unconfirmed reports said at least two dozen members of Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy party have also been freed.
Min Ko Naing's family members said on condition of anonymity that he was with them in the capital, Yangon, after being released from a prison in the northwest. They gave no further details.
Min Ko Naing, 42, was a zoology student at a university in the capital when he became a charismatic leader of a 1988 popular uprising against military rule, in place since a 1962 coup.
After the military violently suppressed the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations, he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in jail for his political activities in Myanmar, also called Burma.
The sentence was later commuted to 10 years, but he was kept in detention under a law that allows imprisonment without charges or trial.
The US Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based group that lobbies for regime change in Myanmar, said Min Ko Naing's eyesight had deteriorated badly in prison and he had a slight fever, but was otherwise well when he returned to his family.
"Needless to say, it was a happy and tearful family reunion," said a statement from the group.
The release of another prominent prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was expected yesterday. The 74-year-old has been serving a 20-year sentence in Yangon after being jailed in July 1989.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the announcement of the releases "and is encouraged by reports that a number of people detained for political activities are included among them," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.
Freeing Myanmar's political prisoners is a major demand of the UN and Western countries critical of the junta's poor human rights record and its failure to hand power to Suu Kyi's party, which won a 1990 general election.
US State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said Washington noted the failure to include some top dissidents, such as Suu Kyi, among those freed.
"We call upon the Burmese authorities to release these individuals and all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally," Ereli said.
British Foreign Office Minister Douglas Alexander also called for "freeing all the other political prisoners who languish in Burma's prisons."
State-run radio and television had announced on Thursday night that the prisoners had been wrongly charged by the former National Intelligence Bureau, dissolved by the junta last month.
The bureau had been headed by former Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt, who was ousted on Oct. 19 and has been accused of corruption and insubordination.
Khin Nyunt's removal was believed to have been orchestrated by hardline junta members.