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Why Myanmar's rumor mill is always spinning

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A man wears a badge showing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and a sticker bearing the emblem of her party, the National League for Democracy.   © Reuters

There is something about Myanmar that encourages conspiracy theories and wild rumors. Not only does the country create them in abundance, but they tend to be picked up by the international news media and otherwise draw attention. If cited in academic works, they gain a credibility that most do not deserve. 

     To give two examples: When a misguided American tourist swam, uninvited, across a lake in Yangon to the home of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2009, activist groups suggested that he had been put up to it by Myanmar's military intelligence service to justify an extension of her house arrest beyond the 2010 elections. And when President Thein Sein acknowledged Myanmar's myriad social and economic problems in 2011 and announced an ambitious reform program, some journalists and activists claimed it was merely a ploy to neutralize Suu Kyi and hoodwink foreign governments into believing the country was taking serious steps to change.

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