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Myanmar men go on trial for murder of UK tourists

Updated: 2015-07-09 07:50
By Agencies in Koh Samui, Thailand (China Daily)

Two Myanmar men accused of murdering two British vacationers in Thailand went on trial on Wednesday in a case that caused outrage in Britain and raised questions about the competence of the Thai police and the treatment of migrant laborers.

British tourists David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were murdered last year on Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, a popular tourist destination in southern Thailand.

Thai police said in October that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, two 22-year-old migrant workers from Myanmar, had initially confessed to the killings. The confessions followed weeks of speculation and pressure on police to solve the murders.

The pair, who deny charges of murder, rape and robbery, could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Police said DNA found on the victims matched the suspects, but the two men later retracted their confessions, saying they had made them while being tortured.

Defense lawyers said there appeared to be discrepancies between DNA evidence held by Thai police and DNA tested by British police. A judge will decide on Thursday whether the defense can independently test the evidence, one lawyer told Reuters.

UK police joined the investigation after British Prime Minister David Cameron raised concerns with his Thai counterpart, Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Rights groups said the trial is a test case for Thailand's treatment of the 2.5 million migrant laborers, many from poor neighboring countries, on which it relies.

Others fear the pair are being used as scapegoats and will not receive a fair trial in a country where the poor and disenfranchised are rarely afforded justice.

Andy Hall, a Thailand-based migrant activist working with the defense, said the accused had not been given access to important evidence.

Witheridge was found raped and beaten to death on a beach in the early hours of Sept 15, while Miller was beaten about the head and left to drown, postmortem examinations showed.

"Her bright future was brutally ended leaving those who loved her broken with no answers," the Witheridge family wrote in their statement.

The victims' families have traveled to Koh Samui, a nearby island where the trial is being held, and said they hoped to gain a better understanding of how the pair died "in such idyllic surroundings in such a horrible way".

The killings damage Thailand's image as a tourist haven when the sector was struggling to recover following months of political unrest in 2014 that kept some tourists away.

Many migrants take jobs Thais don't want in labor-intensive industries like agriculture, construction, and fishing. Others work as domestic helpers or cleaners in restaurants and hotels.

Reuters - AFP - Xinhua

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