Myanmar army boss plea over convictions

Koh Tao has long been popular with scuba divers. Source: Wikimedia

Myanmar’s army chief has asked Thailand to review the conviction of two of its nationals for the murder of two UK backpackers on Koh Tao in 2014.

It follows protests in Myanmar, with the largest outside the Thai embassy in Yangon, against the death sentences for Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo.

The Myanmar media has been asking why the pair were originally released after an initial DNA test proved negative, a decision that was later reversed by the Thai police. 

It is also being asked why Tao’s port was not closed after the murders and why the son of an island henchman and a British backpacker, who were seen with the victims on the night of their murder, were not under suspicion. 

Myanmar often releases Thai convicts in amnesties to ease bilateral tensions, the protesters claim, demanding that Nay Pyi Taw asks Bangkok for similar treatment. 

The migrants were found guilty of killing UK nationals Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, and several other offences, including rape. 

Thailand’s police have defended their investigation, denying allegations that the two men were forced to confess.

Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has urged a “review of the evidence” against the two men. 

He said he wanted to “avoid a situation in which the innocent…were wrongly punished”, in a new year greeting to Thailand’s junta leaders.

The migrants both deny killing Miller, and the rape and murder of Witheridge. They said they were forced by Thai police into confessing under torture, which they later retracted their confessions. 

International observers have accused the Thai police of bungling the investigation and using the men as scapegoats. A delegation from the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok is planning to appeal. 

Thai police spokesperson Gen Dejnarong Suthichanbancha announced, however, that the investigation “was done transparently and was in compliance with international standards”.

During the trial, prosecutors said DNA evidence collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims linked The Burmese migrants to the deaths.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have condemned the police for failing to investigate allegations that the men were tortured into confessing. 

Both Britons were bludgeoned to death on the diving resort, and a post-mortem showed Witheridge had been raped.

The murders have sullied Thailand’s reputation as a tourist haven and raised questions over its justice system. 

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