Speaking to reporters in Naypyidaw, Myanmar's remote new capital, on Monday the country's police chief blamed international media for exaggerating the scale of September's protests.

 

Brigadier-General Khin Yi said a non-government group had worked with exiled dissidents to orchestrate the protests, accusing the US embassy of helping to train activists.

 

"The American Centre held a three-day training course on infiltrating and organising the public," he said.

 

Buddhist monks and former student leaders had led September's protests - swelling to more than 100,000 people – in what became the biggest challenge to military rule in nearly two decades.

 

Kyaw Hsan said most citizens and monks
abstained from the protests [AFP]
The protests had been triggered by a sudden hike in the price of fuel and other essentials, but quickly evolved into a broader anti-government movement.

 

The military's eventual violent crackdown left at least 15 dead and 3,000 in prison, according to a UN envoy, although rights groups and diplomats based in Myanmar suspect the toll to be far higher.

 

Speaking alongside Myanmar's police chief, Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan, the information minister, said the protests were the result of a "pre-arranged plot to create unrest".

 

"It is found with sound evidence that ex-convicted bogus monks got joined with anti-government groups inside and outside the country," he said.

 

"Those unrests and violence, not participated by the majority of the people and the majority of monks, have been put under control."

 

Democracy 'roadmap'

 

Monday's rare press conference was called to announce the first meeting of a government-appointed panel tasked with drafting a new constitution.

 

"No assistance or advice from other persons is required"

Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan,
Myanmar information minister

The meeting is the latest step in what Myanmar's military rulers have called a seven-stage "roadmap to democracy" – a plan that is supposed to lead to free and fair elections, although at an unspecified date.

 

A hand-picked national convention took 14 years to lay out principles to be enshrined in the new charter, finishing only in September.

 

The United Nations had pushed for reforms after the demonstrations and crackdown, and urged a reconciliation process that included the opposition.

 

But Kyaw Hsan ruled out any role for Aung San Suu Kyi or her National League for Democracy (NLD), in the drafting of the new constitution.

 

The NLD won a landslide 80 per cent of the vote in elections held in 1990, but the military refused to recognise the result and the party was never allowed to govern.

 

Kyaw Hsan said if other bodies were allowed to review the constitutional principles, "it will be never-ending and the process will get further complicated".

 

"No assistance or advice from other persons is required," he said, adding that the constitution drafting commission already included legal experts and law graduates of various ethnic groups.

 

The government frequently points to its "roadmap" as a sign of its sincerity in promises to return the country to democracy.

 

But aside from the fact that opposition politicians have been excluded, critics also point out that there is no timetable for the process to be completed and few are optimistic that the process will bring any real change.

 

'No credibility'

 

"I think the Burmese people feel that it's now or never"

Bertil Lintner, 
Myanmar political analyst

The top US diplomat in Yangon, Shari Villarosa, said the new constitution would have no international credibility unless the military brought the NLD and other political groups into the process.

 

Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador to Myanmar, told Al Jazeera that by the end product of the process would be a constitution tailored to the wishes of the ruling generals.

 

"It took them three years to agree on the principles of the constitution, so it's not clear how long the actual drafting process will take," he said.

 

Meanwhile observers say that while the latest protests appear to have been repressed, tensions remain and another uprising was possible.

 

"There's a lot of discontent simmering across the nation," Bertil Lintner, a veteran analyst of Myanmar politics, told Al Jazeera.

 

"I think the Burmese people feel that it's now or never," he said. "If they don't get rid of the military government now they will be stuck with it for another 20 years under a kind of constitutional protection."

 

On Monday, Ashin Nayaka, a US-based exiled monk from Myanmar, told a panel appointed by the US president and leaders of congress that "further bloody confrontation is unavoidable" if the international community does not act.