Friday, October 10, 2014

Myanmar leader asks Prayut for 'fair' probe in Koh Tao murders

YANGON - Myanmar's president has asked Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to ensure a "clean and fair" investigation of the two Myanmar nationals charged with murdering two British tourists, an official said Friday. 
Myanmar political activist Nay Myo Zin (centre) talks during a protest over the arrest of two Myanmar workers charged with killing two British tourists on Koh Tao, during an official visit by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in front of City Hall in Yangon on Friday. (Reuters photo)
His comments followed reports the accused alleged they were tortured into confessing -- an allegation Thailand has strongly denied. The two suspects subseqently recanted their alleged confessions.
The high-profile murder case was discussed during talks Thursday in Nay Pyi Taw between President Thein Sein and the visiting Thai prime minister, who is making his first trip abroad since seizing power in a military coup on May 22.
The charges of murder and rape against the two Myanmar men - Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun - were filed last week after police said the undocumented migrant workers had confessed to killing British holidaymakers Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on a dark Koh Tao beach in the early morning of  Sept 15.
Reports in Myanmar and Thai media have said the accused, who are detained in neighbouring Koh Samui, told a lawyer they confessed to the crime after being tortured, prompting rights groups to demand a probe into their treatment.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (centre), accompanied by his wife Naraporn, shows a tapestry of Shwedagon pagoda presented by Pagoda trustee during his visit to the Myanmar’s Landmark Shwedagon pagoda on Friday. (AP photo)
"If they are guilty, action should be taken according to the law. However, the investigation needs to be clean and fair,"  Thein Sein said during talks with Prayut in Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Taw on Thursday, according to a senior source at the president's office.
"He (Thein Sein) also said these workers' rights need to be protected," the official, who did not want to be named, told AFP, adding that Gen Prayut promised to give "special consideration" to the case.
About 10 demonstrators had gathered in front of City Hall in Yangon since Wednesday calling for a fair trial of the two Myanmar suspects, Mizzima reported on Friday.
The protesters had sought permission from the authorities to rally in front of the Thai embassy in Yangon, but the request was rejected.
Gen Prayut wrapped up his two-day visit to Myanmar with talks with Thai investors in Yangon on Friday.
Police had come under increasing pressure to solve the case after being criticised for mismanaging the probe by chasing the wrong leads and failing to lock down the island in the hours following the murders.
Thai police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang on Friday shrugged off the two Myanmar suspects' reported retraction of their earlier confessions. He told critics to wait until the case concludes in court.
Pol Gen Somyot reiterated his earlier expressions of confidence in the evidence gathered by investigators.
The two Myanmar citizens were arrested on Oct 2 on Koh Tao.
Another Myanmar citizen, Maung Maung, is still being kept in police custody  on Koh Samui as a witness. Lawyers said on Wednesday he told them he did not witness the murders.
Police handling of the case was slammed by Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, director-general of the Central Institute of Forensic Science. She said police investigators did not understand that the beach murder investigation required required the use of a skilled forensic medical examiner.
The Thai police chief staunchly defended the investigation, saying it was transparent and police would not  put their reputation at risk.
Pol Gen Somyot called for the end of criticism and said people should wait for the ruling of the Criminal Court on the case.
The female victim, Witheridge, was to be buried on Friday in England. Her family released a statement expressing their concerns about the investigation.
"As a family we hope that the right people are found and brought to justice," the statement said, as quoted by The Telegraph.
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