Thais urged to defer travel to Myanmar

Myanmar people protest yesterday in Tachilek town, just across the border from Chiang Rai, against last week’s Thai court ruling in the Koh Tao double-murder case .
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

AUTHORITIES in the areas bordering Thailand and Myanmar yesterday warned Thai nationals not to visit Myanmar at this time, as thousands of people held protests across the border after a Thai court's death sentence verdict against two Myanmar migrants last week.

Peaceful protests were held in the Tachilek and Taungoo border towns in Myanmar yesterday. And some 60 people continued with their protests for a third day outside the Thai Embassy in Yangon yesterday.

In Tachilek town, across Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, some 2,000 people gathered at a local stadium about two kilometres from the border area. They protested against the Samui Provincial Court's ruling on Thursday handing down death penalties on Myanmar men Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun for the 2014 murders of British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge.

Protest leaders submitted a letter to the Thai border authorities who accepted it on behalf of the Thai government. The letter called for a fair and just trial.

Thai authorities temporarily closed the border checkpoint for safety reasons. The protesters dispersed peacefully later yesterday. The border checkpoint was reopened shortly afterwards.

At Taungoo town, about 400 Myanmar people protested against the court ruling. Some of the protesters were Myanmar migrant workers from the Thai side of the border.

The protest was peaceful and they dispersed at about 4pm.

Local authorities in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district, which is across the border from the Myanmar town, urged Thai tourists in Myanmar to return home urgently and advised those about to cross the border to delay their visit.

About 60 protesters gathered yesterday outside the Thai Embassy in Yangon, which was closed for the weekend. The demonstration was peaceful and security officials were sent to monitor the situation, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said yesterday that he did not think the protests in Myanmar would worsen and sour ties between the two countries.

He said the Thai government was aware of the protesters' demands. "But we have to let the justice process to take its course anyway. That's an international standard of practice. The Thai court system is acceptable," he said.

The two Myanmar convicts were yesterday transferred from a jail on Koh Samui to the Nakhon Si Thammarat prison. They were moved early yesterday morning to the maximum security prison, which is intended for convicts sentenced to life imprisonment or death penalty.

Meanwhile, the Thai Journalists Association yesterday issued a statement in response to an earlier statement by the Myanmar Journalists Association about the court verdict.

The TJA said it agreed with the MJA that as journalists, "our responsibility is to seek truth and justice". The statement said, "We see the utmost importance of seeking truth and justice, especially in such a controversial case like the tragedy on Koh Tao. The Thai media has already engaged in investigative reporting on this case throughout the judicial process."

Pressure from Mynamar has also come from the National League for Democracy, which won the recent general elections. The party issued a statement urging the Myanmar government to give necessary assistance in filing an appeal on behalf of the Koh Tao convicts. The NLD also welcomed the protest against the court decision outside the Thai Embassy in a way that would not tarnish the country's dignity, Eleven Myanmar reported yesterday.