Myanmar military chief weighs in on Koh Tao murder case

national December 28, 2015 01:00

By The Nation

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Thai officials say death sentences are not final, as protests loom

MYANMAR’S military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing yesterday called for a review of the Koh Tao case in which two Myanmar men were sentenced to death for the murder of two British backpackers. The verdict had angered his compatriots in the neighbouring country. 
“The commander expressed his respect for Thailand’s judicial process while stressing the need to avoid a situation in which the innocent rather than the convicted were wrongly punished,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
Last Thursday, a Samui court found Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun, both 22, guilty of killing Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, |24, on Koh Tao in September 2014. Witheridge was also sexually violated. 
People have demonstrated across Myanmar since the verdict claiming that the two men were scapegoats. 
Min Aung Hlaing also expressed a belief that justice would be assured because of the mutual respect and friendly relations between the two countries, the Myanmar paper reported. 
The message came with New Year’s best wishes from the Myanmar top commander to Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Armed Forces Supreme Commander Sommai Kaotira. 
It’s very rare for leaders in Nay |Pyi Taw to express grave concern |over the plight of ordinary citizens abroad.
A spokesman of the Courts of Justice said the death sentences for the double homicide and gang rape were not yet final. 
“It is still possible to appeal the verdict,” Suebpong Sripongkul said. 
“Even after the final ruling comes out, the defendants can seek a Royal pardon.” The decision was based on evidence and the summary was now available for everyone to view in both Thai and English, he said. 
Pol General Dejnarong Sutticharnbancha, National Police spokesman, said the public could have confidence in Thailand’s judicial process because there were effective checks-and-balances mechanisms.
“We work based on the principles of transparency and fairness,” he told a press conference held by investigators, forensic officials and doctors to boost public confidence in the police investigation and evidence-gathering process. Pol Colonel Prachum Ruangthong, superintendent of Koh Pha Ngan Police Station, said public prosecutors had asked police to improve the investigation report three times before accepting it.
“We have handled the case very carefully,” he said.
He denied reports that the defendants were tortured into confessing and rumours that police had relied on the interpretation services of a |man who had conflicts with the defendants.
“Those reports are groundless. Doctors have examined the defendants’ physical health and there |is no sign of torture,” he said. 
Despite Thai authorities’ moves to ease tensions over the guilty verdict for the two Myanmar migrants, more protests against the sentences were planned. 
An official at the Thai-Myanmar coordination centre in the Ranong-Kawthoung border area said Myanmar people would stage a rally tomorrow. 
Thousands of people have gathered in front of the Thai embassy in Yangon and at border checkpoints since the verdict to express their disappointment and demand that Thailand review the case. 

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