Burmese government investigators say that witnesses who might be able to prove the innocence of two Burmese nationals accused of murdering a pair of British tourists in Thailand are too afraid of the Thai police to testify.
At a press conference in Rangoon on Thursday, the investigators reiterated their belief that Zaw Win and Win Zaw Htun are innocent of the murders of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge.
The bodies of the young English backpackers were discovered on a beach in the Thai island of Koh Tao on 15 September. Evidence suggested miss Witheridge had also been raped.
Htoo Chit, a prominent Burmese migrant’s rights activist is a member of the investigation committee, is adamant the 21-year old Arakanese did not commit the violent crime.
“Whatever the Thai government decides in this case, we believe these two young people did not commit these crimes”, Htoo Chit said.
The Thai police handling of the case has sparked international controversy, and has become a foreign policy issue for the Burmese government. Rights activists have taken it upon themselves to support the two Burmese migrant workers, who have been detained in prison since their arrest in early October.
Zaw Linn And Win Zaw Htun say Thai police forced them into a confession with threats of torture. A confession which they later recanted.
Htoo Chit believes the case is of significance for millions of migrants working in Thailand, and not just those from Burma.
“Thailand’s handling of this Koh Tao murder investigation will not only impact the lives of Win Zaw Tun and Zaw Lin, but the lives of millions of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, Laos and other countries,” Htoo Chit said.
The Burmese investigators say they believe that the way the migrants were treated by police will discourage witnesses from testifying.
Some of those interviewed were “strong witnesses” who might provide evidence to exonerate the accused, but they are reluctant to testify, said Kyaw Thaung, who leads the investigating committee.
“If they (the witnesses) say what they know, they will lose their job. They are afraid of Thai police and Thai bosses. This is the main difficulty for us,” he told reporters.
The Burmese investigation committee set up in Bangkok said they have interviewed 40 migrants who may have witnessed the brutal attacks at the popular beach resort.
They say each interviewee fled back to Burma, scared of becoming embroiled in the opaque case.
Zaw Linn and Win Zaw Htun are due back in court on the 26th of December, facing seven charges each, including murder and rape.