At precisely 6:37 a.m. last Sunday, according to one account - with a shout of "Let's go!" - a convoy of trucks began a huge, expensive and baffling transfer of the government of Myanmar from the capital to a secret mountain compound 200 miles to the north.
Diplomats and foreign analysts were left groping a week later for an explanation of the unannounced move. In a country as secretive and eccentric as Myanmar, it is a full-time job to try to tease the truth from the swirl of rumors and guesswork, relying on few facts and many theories. The leading theories now have to do with astrological predictions and fears of invasion by the United States. The relocation, which the government announced to reporters and foreign diplomats a day after it began, but not yet to the public through the state-controlled media, had been rumored for years.
The military junta that runs the former Burma offered little explanation for its mystery move. "Due to changed circumstances, where Myanmar is trying to develop a modern nation, a more centrally located government seat has become a necessity," it said in a statement.
That left plenty of room for theories, and it was difficult to find one that seemed rational. Astrology seemed to make as much sense as anything.
Seen from [the junta's] perspective, the notion of an American invasion might not seem far-fetched. They are a ruling clique of soldiers whose background is jungle warfare and who know little of the outside world.
In January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice included Myanmar in a list of "outposts of tyranny," along with North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe and Belarus.
Officials in Myanmar sometimes offer visitors a list of their own: Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq - places where the United States has sent armed forces.
Well, I guess I can see why they might fear an American attack, but they really are out of touch and paranoid if they think we can spare enough troops to invade a country that doesn't have any oil.