YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's ruling junta lashed out at Western powers and foreign media Thursday, accusing them of fomenting last month's large protests that were ended by a brutal crackdown.
The state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper described protesters, who continue to be hunted by the military across the country, as "stooges of foreign countries putting on a play written by their foreign masters."
In what has become a daily staple of the government press, the newspaper said some 30,000 pro-junta demonstrators gathered in the remote Chin state on Wednesday to support the regime's national convention and forthcoming constitution, which critics say is a sham.
It also singled out "big powers" and radio stations — the British Broadcasting Corp., Voice of America and Radio Free Asia — as being behind the demonstrations.
Troops crushed the protests on Sept. 26-27 with gunfire, beatings and mass arrests. The regime said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the toll at up to 200 and say thousands of students, Buddhist monks and others were arrested. The crackdown ignited international outrage.
The United States and other countries have pushed for international sanctions, but China said Thursday that only a more conciliatory approach would work.
"We believe that the situation there is relaxing and turning in a positive direction," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "The international community should help in a constructive way to help Myanmar to realize stability, reconciliation, democracy and development."
The ruling council's top leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, offered to meet detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi following a visit early this month by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Both Suu Kyi's political party and the military have taken some conciliatory steps.
But no mention of talks was made Wednesday, and the official press stressed the regime was bent on following its own timetable to a so-called "roadmap to democracy," which includes the new constitution and referendum to be followed by elections at an unspecified date.
Critics describe such a scenario as a sham to hoodwink world opinion and silence domestic opposition.
The top U.S. diplomat in Yangon said the heightened international attention will pressure its rulers to open the country and reconcile with pro-democracy advocates.
"That the international community is paying more attention is hopeful," said Shari Villarosa. "Hopefully this will help mobilize pressure not only from the United States but from all the countries in the region."
She told reporters in Hawaii that nations needed to "push it and push it and push it some more."
Reports from Myanmar indicate the crackdown on dissidents is continuing underneath a seemingly calm surface.
A Thailand-based exile group said a Myanmar opposition party member died during interrogation, and two activists were arrested Wednesday.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said security officers had been threatening dissidents' relatives and neighbors attempting to find those involved in last month's pro-democracy protests.
Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country. India, China, Russia, and other nations supply Myanmar with weapons that the military uses to commit human rights abuses and to bolster its power, the New York-based group said.
A delegation of Myanmar's air force, meanwhile, is visiting Russia, one of Myanmar's main arms suppliers, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
Russian air force spokesman Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky said the Myanmar representatives would meet with the Russian air forces command and other military and defense industry officials, and visit air and space defense and research centers, according to the report.