Protests stirred up in Myanmar over Koh Tao murders

Demonstrators hold placards outside the Thai embassy in Yangon on Dec 26, 2015 to protest against the death sentence of Myanmar labour workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun for the murder of two British backpackers on the Thai island of Koh Tao.
PHOTO: AFP

THE GOVERNMENT yesterday hit out over Myanmar people upset at the Thai court verdict on the Koh Tao murder case, saying the protests in various towns could have been manipulated by bad elements. But people in the neighbouring country continued to demand that the case be reviewed.

"I believe the group that is against the current government and the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] has been behind such demonstrations," Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday.

He suspected that this group may want to disrupt the work of the current Thai government.

Thousands of Myanmar people have staged several rallies in their homeland after Samui Provincial Court handed the death penalty to two Myanmar men for killing two Britons on Koh Tao in late 2014.

The rallies were so serious that consular officials at the Thai embassy in Myanmar shut down services this week.

The Myanmar rallies appear to have occurred because of widespread suspicion that the two accused were scapegoats forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. This may have stemmed from intense debate on social media about the case in the year since the men's arrest.

The protests in Yangon, Tachilek and other towns have drawn attention from Myanmar leaders.

Top army commander Min Aung Hlaing sent a message to Prawit |earlier asking for justice and the case to be reviewed for the sake of mutual respect and friendship between the two nations. However, Prawit remained confident that the case would not hurt the bilateral relations.

Prawit, who oversees security affairs, revealed yesterday that he had already instructed soldiers and police to track people who spurred sentiment against the court verdict.

"We will bring them to justice," he said.

The Thai court, however, has maintained that its ruling was based on solid evidence, including DNA traces of the two convicts inside the body of the female victim who was sexually violated and brutally killed.

'They have the right to appeal'

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was furious yesterday when asked about protests in Myanmar against the verdict. "They have the right to appeal, right? Laws all over the world [are] like this… , or Thailand does not have such system," he said. "Doesn't Thailand have the same?"

It was not possible to let convicts go free simply because someone had heaped pressure on the authorities for them, he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai said his ministry had asked its Myanmar counterpart to help ensure that the protests do not spiral out of control.

"We have seen that the protests are expanding," he said.

Asked whether someone was trying to take advantage of the situation in fanning anti-Thai sentiment, Don said it was not possible to tell the objectives of all protesters but it seemed that some rallies were organised in an unusual manner.

On the safety of Thais in Myanmar, Don said the situation was not worrying in this regard.

Meanwhile in Myanmar, Taw Phaya, 92, grandson of the last Myanmar king Thibaw, plans to send a personal letter to His Majesty the King urging him to get concerned authorities to review the case.

Taw Phaya said he did not ask for a royal pardon in the letter, but "many people know that witnesses have no strong evidence, so the case should be retried to get the real true facts and the real culprits… Myanmar people and I myself will be thankful for your compassion and Metta (mercy)".

The letter dated December 27 and seen by The Nation will be sent through the Thai Embassy in Yangon today.

A group of Myanmar protesters also called for the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a landslide victory election last month and is preparing to form a government, to comment on the case.

However Nyan Win, a member of NLD's central executive committee, said the NLD was merely a political party and had no authority at present to do anything.

"We are not the government right now. So we do not have the right to undertake some tasks the government should do. What we can do right now is to urge the Thai government to protect Myanmar nationals as much as possible," he said.

A group of hundreds of Myanmar protesters gathered yesterday at Three Pagoda Pass opposite Sangkhla Buri district in Kanchanaburi province to lodge a petition with a Thai district official, urging that the case be reviewed.

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