Burmese Migrants Cleared of Tourist Killings in Thailand

By Saw Yan Naing 18 September 2014

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – Six Burmese migrants were released by Thai police on Wednesday, two days after they were detained on suspicion of involvement in the grisly murder of two British tourists on the resort island of Koh Tao.

The investigation, however, is ongoing into the deaths of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, whose battered bodies were found on a beach on Monday in southern Thailand.

Htoo Chit, executive director of the Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, said the six Burmese migrant workers were released after Thai police questioned them and administered DNA tests.

“Police conducted DNA tests on all of them. And their DNA had nothing to do with the murder, so they were not guilty. They all were released on Wednesday,” Htoo Chit said.

Thai police also detained and questioned British brothers Christopher and Alan Ware, who were friends of Miller, but released them after DNA tests failed to link them to the murders.

So far, DNA tests have matched none of the 12 suspects detained by police.

Htoo Chit said the swift rounding up of the six migrants was symptomatic of widespread discrimination against Burmese nationals, who represent the largest contingent of Thailand’s foreign workforce.

“If something bad happens here, they [Thai authorities] usually eye or blame Burmese migrant workers. They [Burmese migrants] will be the first to be summoned for questioning. It is standard practice.”

At the same time, Burmese migrants are particularly vulnerable to abuse or mistreated in Thailand, Htoo Chit said, citing the murders last month of two Burmese nationals.

Hla Thein and Aung Min Thein were found dead in Phangan, Surat Thani province, on Aug. 15, their bodies having suffered both knife and gun wounds.

There has been no indication that an investigation has been opened into the case, Htoo Chit said, adding that the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok had also neglected the case.

“So far, no one knows who killed the two Burmese brothers,” Htoo Chit said.

“The [Burmese] government should deal with the case to protect Burmese people who come to work in Thailand,” he added.

The number of Burmese nationals working in Thailand is estimated to be as high as 3 million, with hundreds of thousands undocumented.