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Burma military chief urges review of verdicts in British backpacker murders case

Published 27/12/2015

Hannah Witheridge died alongside David Miller in Thailand (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/PA)
Hannah Witheridge died alongside David Miller in Thailand (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/PA)
The two men were convicted at Koh Samui provincial court

The head of Burma's military has called on the Thai government to review the conviction of two men for the murders of two British backpackers.

Burmese migrants Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, also known as Win Zaw Htun, were found guilty last week at a court in Thailand of killing Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24.

The pair, both bar workers, say Thai police tortured them into confessing to the killing on September 15 last year and will appeal against their sentences.

The force has defended its investigation, but since the conviction there have been daily protests in Burma.

State media has reported General Min Aung Hlaing calling for a "review of the evidence" and to "avoid a situation in which the innocent ... were wrongly punished".

This follows a statement made earlier this week by Amnesty International for a full investigation into claims the two men were tortured.

Champa Patel, Amnesty International director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said: "Thai authorities must ensure that any alleged confession or other statement obtained as a result of torture is not admitted as evidence in court in any retrial of the case, unless against those accused of torture to prove that the statement has been taken.

"This requires an independent investigation, which the police should certainly not be in charge of.

"The Thai police force has a long and disturbing track record of using torture and other forms of ill-treatment to extract 'confessions'.

"We hope that the Thai authorities will ensure the truth in a retrial that respects international human rights law and standards, so that the families of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller get the justice and peace of mind they deserve."

But despite the concerns, the brother of one of the victims David Miller said he felt the "correct decision" had been reached in the case.

Michael Miller, speaking outside the court in Koh Samui flanked by parents Ian and Sue, said: "We believe the result today represents justice for David and Hannah."

"It is our opinion that the evidence against Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin is absolutely overwhelming.

"They raped to satisfy their selfish desires and murdered to cover up that fact. They have shown no remorse during the trial."

Mr Miller said that after hearing the evidence during the trial he believed the Thai police investigation was "not the so-called shambles it was made out to be".

"Like many people we were initially unsure what to think when Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were detained as suspects," he said.

"We saw images of two innocent looking men surrounded by tough policemen. It was easy to conclude they might be convenient scapegoats."

"We believe that after a difficult start the Royal Thai police conducted a methodical and thorough investigation," he said.

Miss Witheridge, a University of Essex student, and Mr Miller, who had just completed a civil and structural engineering degree at the University of Leeds, met on Koh Tao while staying at the same hotel.

Post-mortem examinations showed that both had suffered severe head wounds.

Prosecutors said DNA evidence collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims, linked Lin and Phyo to the killings.

But lawyers representing the pair said DNA samples from the alleged murder weapon - a garden hoe - did not match that of the two men and their confessions were a result of torture in the context of "systematic abuse" of migrants on Koh Tao.

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