Myanmar's junta said it will release more than 1,600 prisoners from jails across the country on Sunday to mark the Buddhist new year, without specifying whether those being pardoned were protesters or common criminals.

The Southeast Asian country has been in turmoil since Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government was ousted last year in a military coup, which sparked huge protests and a deadly crackdown.

State television announced that 1,619 prisoners, including 42 foreigners had been "pardoned" and will be released to mark the new year.

It was unclear whether anti-junta protesters or journalists jailed for covering the coup will be among those freed.

On Sunday morning, more than 100 people gathered outside Yangon's Insein prison hoping to be reunited with loved ones, AFP correspondents said.

Among them was a woman waiting for her 19-year-old nephew, who was sentenced to three years imprisonment for incitement against the military.

"He was young, and he may have some feeling to fight," she said, declining to give her name.

"I wish all young children will be released including my nephew. They all were innocent."

Another woman waiting outside the prison said she was hopeful that her uncle -- sentenced to three years in prison in March because of his political activism -- would be released.

"I came here as I expected that he would be among other prisoners who got amnesty," she said.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she had received a letter from her uncle in prison, reassuring her he was well.

Australian academic

There was no mention of the Australian economist Sean Turnell, a former Suu Kyi advisor who was arrested shortly after the coup.

He is currently on trial for allegedly breaching the official secrets act, which carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence.

The exact details of his alleged offence have not been made public, though state television has said he had access to "secret state financial information" and had tried to flee Myanmar.

Human rights groups have raised concerns about his prosecution, particularly after the Australian embassy was denied access to his court hearing in September.

Myanmar typically grants an annual amnesty to thousands of prisoners to mark the Buddhist New Year, usually a joyous holiday celebrated in many parts with water fights.

But this year, with the bloody military crackdown on dissent, the streets in many major cities have been silent as people protest junta rule.