The government in Myanmar released around 150 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty given to an estimated 6,300 detainees.
The release followed an appeal to the government from the head of the state-backed National Human Rights Commission to set free prisoners accused of ordinary crimes so they can participate in "nation-building tasks."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, in a statement Wednesday, said London was looking forward to more important steps from Myanmar's government.
"I welcome the news that a number of political prisoners have been released in Burma (the former name of Myanmar)," he said. "We have been pressing for the release of all political prisoners for a long time and this is an encouraging first step."
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that many of the prisoners were in poor health and suffered "immeasurably" during detention. The government, she added, must follow the release with fundamental reforms.
"The laws that put them behind bars are still on the books and can be used again at any time," she said."If the government wants to show it is really different from its predecessors, it should convene Parliament and repeal laws criminalizing peaceful political speech."