Myanmar leader asks Thai PM for 'fair' probe on tourist murders

Myanmar's president has asked Thailand's visiting premier to ensure a "clean and fair" investigation for a pair of Myanmar nationals charged with murdering two British tourists, an official said on Friday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Myanmar's president has asked Thailand's visiting premier to ensure a "clean and fair" investigation for a pair of Myanmar nationals charged with murdering two British tourists, an official said on Friday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's president has asked Thailand's visiting premier to ensure a "clean and fair" investigation for a pair of Myanmar nationals charged with murdering two British tourists, an official said on Friday.

The comments came after reports that the accused were tortured into confessing - an allegation Thailand has strongly denied.

The high-profile murder case was discussed during talks between President Thein Sein and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who is visiting Myanmar on his first overseas foray since seizing power in a coup.

The charges of murder and rape against the two Myanmar men were filed last week after police said the undocumented migrant workers had confessed to killing the British holidaymakers on the southern Thai island of Koh Tao in September.

But reports in Myanmar and Thai media have said the accused told a lawyer that they confessed to the crime after being tortured, prompting rights groups to demand a probe into their treatment.

"If they are guilty, action should be taken according to the law. However, the investigation needs to be clean and fair," said Thein Sein during talks with Prayuth in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw on Thursday, according to a senior source at the president's office.

"He (Thein Sein) also said these workers' rights need to be protected," the official, who did not want to be named, told AFP, adding that Prayuth promised to give "special consideration" to the case.

Thai authorities have strongly denied using the pair as scapegoats in a case that has tarnished Thailand's reputation as a tourist paradise.

"I want to stress that police have investigated this case based on the law, examined evidence in line with international standards, and are fully accountable," national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters in Bangkok on Friday.

The battered bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found on the popular resort island, neighbouring Ko Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand on Sept 15, rocking the small community.

Thai authorities had come under increasing pressure to solve the case after being criticised for mismanaging the probe by chasing the wrong leads and failing to lock down the island in the hours following the murders.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International called on the kingdom to launch an independent investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police. "The pressure to be seen to be solving an appalling crime that has garnered considerable attention should not result in the violation of rights, including to a fair trial," said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Programme director.

Prayuth is on the final leg of a two-day visit to Myanmar where on Friday he visited the country's revered Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and met Thai investors, as he seeks to redouble economic ties with the kingdom's emerging neighbour.