WASHINGTON: The US said on Friday it would upgrade diplomatic ties with Burma/Myanmar after President Barack Obama called the release of hundreds of political prisoners a “substantial step forward” in the South-East Asian country’s democratic reforms.

US officials were working to confirm how many political detainees were among the 651 inmates covered by the amnesty order, but said it appeared that many activists had won their freedom.

“Taken in total, this is one of the largest releases of political prisoners in Asia’s history,” said one US official.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the prisoner release.

Myanmar held elections in March and a nominally civilian government – although still heavily weighted towards the military – took over from the ruling junta and launched a series of political reforms.

Those have included freeing veteran pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2010, loosening media restrictions and other repressive laws, and working to end long-running conflicts with ethnic insurgent groups.

Sanctions imposed by the US and other Western nations have crippled Myanmar’s economy, despite its rich resources, which include gas, timber and precious gems. – Reuters