Havana: President Raul Castro announced plans to pardon some 3,000 prisoners for "humanitarian reasons," a group amnesty of unprecedented size, and "gradually" reform onerous laws restricting foreign travel.

The pardons include 86 foreign nationals from 25 different countries, and will take place "in the coming days," Castro said in a closing address to the National Assembly.

However US contractor Alan Gross, who is jailed in Cuba for espionage, will not be among those to be released, a top Foreign Ministry official said.

Gross -- a State Department contractor arrested in December 2009 for delivering laptops and communications gear to Cuba's small Jewish community -- "will not be on the list" of foreigners to be pardoned, Josefina Vidal, a senior official with Cuba's foreign ministry said.

Castro, speaking at the close of the second session of Cuba's National Assembly yesterday, said that factors that played into the pardon decision included requests from the Catholic Church and various Protestant churches, and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

The pardon is the largest ever under the communist regime, much larger that the 299 prisoners released ahead of the visit of Pope John Paul II in January 1998.

Cubans were intensely and emotionally keen to hear about migration reform, which Castro -- the ex-defense chief who took over from his brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, in July 2006 -- has been promised but not yet delivered.

"I reaffirm my unswerving will to gradually introduce the changes required in this complicated area," Raul Castro said in the speech.

Many people "consider a new migratory policy an urgent issue, forgetting the exceptional circumstances that Cuba is going through," Castro said.

He referred to the US trade embargo on the island and Washington's alleged "subversive" policy, "always on the lookout for any opportunity to reach its known purposes."

Neither the Communist government nor the state-run media have given any details on the migration reforms being considered.

(Agencies)