Myanmar asks Thailand to review case

A Buddhist monk holding a sign during a protest outside Thailand's embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, last Saturday. The protest was against a Thai court's death sentence for two Myanmar migrant workers.
A Buddhist monk holding a sign during a protest outside Thailand's embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, last Saturday. The protest was against a Thai court's death sentence for two Myanmar migrant workers.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

YANGON • Myanmar's army chief has called on Thailand to review the sentencing of two countrymen to death for murdering a pair of British backpackers after a controversial trial that sparked protests.

General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the country's influential military, has asked Thailand for a "review of the evidence" against the two men, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported yesterday.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were found guilty last Thursday of killing Mr David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Ms Hannah Witheridge, 23, whose battered bodies were found on a beach in the southern Thai diving resort of Koh Tao in September last year.

The killings have sullied Thailand's reputation as a tourist haven and raised questions over its justice system after the defence accused the police of bungling their investigation and using the men as scapegoats - a charge the authorities deny.

The verdicts have sparked anger in Myanmar, with daily protests outside the Thai embassy in Yangon and at border crossings with the country's eastern neighbour.

The Global New Light of Myanmar said Gen Hlaing expressed his concerns about the verdict in a New Year message to senior Thai junta leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

"The commander-in-chief expressed his respect for Thailand's judicial process while stressing the need to avoid a situation in which the innocent... were wrongly punished," the newspaper reported.

The statement is the strongest suggestion yet that senior Myanmar leaders are unhappy with the Thai court's decision amid a surge of sympathy for the two accused in their homeland.

Thai prosecutors and police insist their evidence against the men - both migrant workers - was rock solid, including the DNA found on Ms Witheridge's body.

But the defence, which has vowed to appeal against the verdict, disputed the forensic evidence, saying it was improperly collected and processed.

They also accused the police of torturing their clients into signing confessions, which they later retracted.

However, Mr Miller's family backed the verdict, saying they believed the evidence against the two accused was "overwhelming".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar asks Thailand to review case'. Print Edition | Subscribe