Thailand’s junta leader said yesterday that the case against a pair of Myanmar suspects in the murder of two British tourists was “reliable” and an internal issue for the kingdom in an apparent rebuke of a British offer to help.
The comments by the tough-talking former army chief, Prayuth Chan-O-Cha, who is also prime minister, come after Britain offered to help with the police investigation, amid deepening concerns over the handling of the probe.
Thai police have charged two migrant workers from Myanmar with the murder of David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, after the tourists’ battered bodies were found on the southern island of Koh Tao on September 15.
But unease over the case has deepened because of reports that the suspects were tortured into confessing – an allegation Thailand has strongly denied.
“I consider Koh Tao case to be reliable,” Prayuth told reporters, adding there were several pieces of evidence to charge the migrant workers.
“Anyone can come to Thailand, but don’t forget that what is our issue, is our issue,” he said of British offer of help. “We managed to arrest suspects swiftly even though it seemed impossible at the beginning.”
The arrests followed intense scrutiny of Thai authorities, which had been accused – in criticism led by the British media – of bungling the investigation in the days after the crime.
Yesterday Britain’s envoy in Thailand met Thai and Myanmar officials in Bangkok to discuss the investigation.
Britain’s Ambassador to Thailand Mark Kent said he had met Thai police, Myanmar’s envoy to Thailand and Thai foreign ministry officials to discuss the case. He gave no details.
A day earlier, Thailand’s top diplomat in London was summoned to hear the UK stress its “real concern” about the handling of the case, which has further dented Thailand’s already battered reputation as a tourist paradise.
Prayuth also denied that the Thai charge d’affaires in London, Nadhavathna Krishnamra, had been summoned over concern about how Thai authorities have handled the case.
“They did not summon us. We went to provide clarification to them,” Prayuth told reporters. “We went to show them how we work. They might be surprised at how quickly we work but we explained the steps we have in place.”
The British government said on Monday that it had summoned Thailand’s top diplomatic representative in London to call for the investigation to be “conducted in a fair and transparent way”.
In a statement junior foreign minister Hugo Swire “reiterated that the UK police stood ready to assist with the investigation and subsequent legal process”.
Thai police have said that the two Myanmar suspects confessed to the crime and their DNA matched samples taken from Witheridge’s body.
Police said the two workers from Myanmar, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, have been charged with murder, rape and robbery.
A pre-trial witness hearing began yesterday and the two suspects were in court but did not give testimony.
Their lawyers called for the trial to be postponed to allow more time to prepare a defence but the plea was rejected.
“The lawyer just had contact with the suspects yesterday. They need time to talk and understand each other before the trial,” said Andy Hall, a British rights activist and researcher based in Thailand who is monitoring the case. “Both the British and the Myanmar governments have asked for a fair trial and a fair trial takes time.”
“We hope Thai authorities will act with balance and accuracy to prosecute the offenders according to the law and not take action wrongly against those who didn’t commit the crime,” an official from the Myanmar president’s office in Naypyidaw told AFP.
The grisly murders on the normally tranquil Thai island delivered a fresh blow to the kingdom’s image as a tourist haven after months of political protests that ended in May’s army coup.
Prayuth: Anyone can come to Thailand, but don’t forget that what is our issue, is our issue.