CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Three Burmese witnesses in the double murder case on Thailand’s Koh Tao island have been released by authorities after giving testimony before a judge at a provincial court in Koh Samui on Tuesday.
Police investigators have been gathering evidence against Burmese suspects Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, who are accused of murdering two British tourists on the island on Sept. 15, but their lawyer on Wednesday said the witnesses’ testimony had not done anything to strengthen the case against the men.
“All three do not know about the crime scene,” said Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer on a team formed by the Burmese Embassy, migrants’ rights groups, and Burmese and Thai lawyers from the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
Aung Myo Thant said the three witnesses would be placed under the care of the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok.
They had been under a kind of house arrest at accommodation near the police station, according to the Burmese lawyer, who said the men were under the watch of police and were not allowed to leave the premises unaccompanied.
Maung Maung, a primary witness who is a close friend of the accused, told The Irrawaddy that he did not know anything about the crime. He is from a village in Arakan State’s Rathedaung Township and worked at the bar where the murder victims were last seen alive on Koh Tao, a popular diving island in southern Thailand’s Surat Thani province.
“I have only wanted to go back home since the day I was arrested,” said Maung Maung. “I know they [the accused] are not involved in the murder case.”
The investigation into the murders has come under international scrutiny in recent weeks amid allegations that Thai police had beaten some of the Burmese migrant workers who they called in for questioning, including the two men ultimately accused of the crime.
The lawyer said the two accused were also present for the pre-trial testimony at the provincial court.
“They seemed in good health, except for pain in their chests [allegedly from their interrogation],” added Aung Myo Thant.
Meanwhile, Thailand agreed to allow British and Burmese observers of the judicial process after senior Thai officials met with British Ambassador to Thailand Mark Kent and his Burmese counterpart Win Maung on Tuesday, according to the Bangkok Post.
Win Maung confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the Thai police chief had agreed to allow the foreign observers, saying their presence would bolster the credibility of the investigation and judicial process.
The Burmese Embassy team has been providing onsite support to the accused and the witnesses on Koh Samui.
“We have our team on Koh Samui and will assist in their case until it is closed,” Win Maung said.
The two defendants have been accused of rape, murder, looting and illegally entering Thailand.
The Bangkok Post reported that “investigators have laid an additional charge against the two suspects … murder with intent to conceal the crime and avoid prosecution.”
“The police said they would bring the charges before court within a month,” said Aung Myo Thant, adding that the judge had given his assurance that the case would be a top priority on the court’s docket once it is filed with prosecutors.
Additional reporting by Yan Pai.