Burma Army Chief Calls for Review of Koh Tao Verdict

By Saw Yan Naing 28 December 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The head of Burma’s Armed Forces has called on Thai authorities to review the evidence that led to the conviction and sentencing to death of two Burmese migrants for the 2014 murder of two British tourists on a Thai resort island.

A Koh Samui Court on Thursday sentenced migrants Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo to death for the killing of two British backpackers, David Miller and Hannah Witheridge, on Koh Tao in September last year—a high profile case that has attracted significant controversy amid allegations Thai police mishandled evidence and mistreated the accused.

In a New Year greeting to Thai Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing wrote that it was paramount to avoid punishing innocent people.

“Regarding the verdict, we believe and hope that Thai authorities will proceed fairly with the case in accordance with the law,” the message read, which was posted to the commander-in-chief’s Facebook.

Min Aung Hlaing cited the neighboring countries’ strong bilateral friendship and stressed he respected the judicial process in Thailand.

Many Burmese have reacted with anger to the verdict, with hundreds protesting outside the Thai Embassy in Rangoon over consecutive days since Friday. Protesters contend the Burmese pair have been made scapegoats for the brutal crime. The defendant’s lawyers have vowed to appeal.

The Thai Embassy announced on Sunday that its consular section will be closed from Monday to Wednesday due to the ongoing demonstrations.

“The consular section of the Royal Thai Embassy in Yangon will be closed during 28–30 December 2015 due to unexpected and prolonged demonstrations around the Embassy, following the Koh Samui Provincial Court’s recent judgment,” the statement read.

The Thai Embassy also issued a separate notification on Friday, warning Thai citizens to take precautions in Burma and avoid identifying as Thai nationals if not necessary.

In solidarity with protests in the commercial capital, Burmese communities in the border towns of Tachilek, Myawaddy and Three Pagodas Pass also held demonstrations over the weekend. Burmese nationals also protested outside respective Thai embassies in Japan and South Korea over the guilty verdict.

Other Burmese officials, including information minister Ye Htut, President’s Office Minister Zaw Htay and Burmese Ambassador to Thailand Win Maung have expressed hope the verdict will be thoroughly reviewed.

Thai police on Sunday defended the probe as transparent and in line with international standards, according to a report in the Bangkok Post.

Police Maj-Gen Piyaphan said the DNA evidence “cannot lie” and warned against attempts to politicize the case, according to the Thai newspaper.