HAVANA – Cuban church officials on Saturday released the names of 12 more political prisoners who will be freed and sent into exile in the coming days under a landmark agreement with President Raul Castro's government, bringing to 17 the total number of jailed dissidents who have accepted asylum in Spain.

While there has been no word on when exactly the men will be freed, there are growing signs that a release could be imminent, with the wife of one prisoner saying Cuban officials told her to prepare to leave the country.

"They (Cuban officials) called me to tell me to get ready to leave, because they would be around to get us," Barbara Rojo, the wife of prisoner Omar Ruiz, told The Associated Press.

Another prisoner, Jose Luis Garcia, was being moved from a jail in Las Tunas to Havana, said his mother, Moralinda Paneque.

The 17 are among a group of 52 opposition leaders, journalists and activists who remain in jail following a broad crackdown on dissent in 2003 that resulted in lengthy prison terms on treason and other charges.

The government agreed to release them after a meeting Wednesday between Castro and Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega. The Church has taken an increasingly public role in relations between the government and the opposition since the death of a jailed dissident hunger striker in February. The meeting was brokered by visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

The Church announced the names of the first five prisoners to be released on Thursday, and said all had accepted asylum in Spain, as did those on the list announced Saturday. Neither the Church nor the Cuban government has said whether agreeing to exile is a requirement of release. Ortega has described exile as an "option."

A Church official who was not authorized to be quoted by name told the AP on Saturday that it was not clear exactly when any of the men will actually leave jail. The archbishop's statement said only that the releases would take place "soon."

Also Saturday, a Vatican spokesman hailed the announced releases as a sign of real progress on the island.

"The world looks with hope at the events that are coming out of Cuba," Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio. "We all hope that this path continues."

While the government's promise to release prisoners has raised hopes on the island, praise from outside had been grudging — particularly from human rights groups and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton applauded the development on Thursday, but described the releases as "overdue."

Amnesty International largely skipped the warm words in a response issued the same day, and insisted that all of the island's prisoners of conscience be sent home immediately.

"We welcome the commitment to release these prisoners but there is no reason why all. .. prisoners of conscience held in Cuba should not be released immediately," Susan Lee, Amnesty's Americas Program director, said in a statement. She also criticized any agreement that forces the former prisoners into exile.

(Source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100710/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/cb_cuba_political_prisoners)