Review death sentence, army chief of Myanmar tells Thailand

Yangon, December 27

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 today.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were found guilty on Thursday of killing David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of 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 grim 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 authorities deny.

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

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

In the third consecutive day of protests, a few hundred demonstrators gathered at Yangon’s famed Shwe Dagon pagoda and outside the Thai embassy. They later marched on the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party swept elections last month and will form a government early next year.

Demonstrators handed her a letter asking for her help she has so far remained silent on the verdict.

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

Thai police insisted their probe was above board and hit out at the protests in Myanmar. “We reaffirm that our probe was done transparently and was in compliance with international standards,” national spokesman Police General Dejnarong Suthichanbancha said.