Thailand beach murders: Myanmar plea over convictions

Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin Image copyright EPA
Image caption Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin (pictured) have denied murdering the British tourists

Myanmar's army chief has called on Thai officials to review the conviction of two of its nationals for the murder of two UK backpackers in Thailand in 2014.

It follows protests in Myanmar (also known as Burma) against the death sentences for Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo.

They were found guilty on Thursday of killing UK nationals Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24.

Thai police have defended their investigation, denying allegations that the two men were forced to confess.

The military chief in neighbouring Myanmar, General Min Aung Hlaing urged a "review of the evidence" against the two men, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Sunday.

He said he wanted to "avoid a situation in which the innocent...were wrongly punished", in a new year message to the senior Thai junta leaders.

Migrants workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo both deny killing David Miller, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge. They said they were forced by Thai police into confessing under duress, which they later retracted.

Hundreds took part in protests which erupted outside the Thai embassy in Yangon, as well as in some towns across Thailand, after Thursday's court ruling, calling for the men's release.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found dead on the Thai island of Koh Tao

Defence lawyers have accused Thai police of bungling the investigation and using the men as scapegoats, and are planning to appeal against the sentences.

But Thai police spokesperson Gen Dejnarong Suthichanbancha told reporters on Sunday that the investigation "was done transparently and was in compliance with international standards".

During the trial, prosecutors said DNA evidence collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims linked Lin and Phyo to the deaths.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, who followed the case closely, has described the police investigation as a muddled affair with hazy, contradictory and sparse information.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have also condemned the police for failing to investigate allegations the accused were tortured into confessing.

The backpackers' bodies were found on a Koh Tao island beach, Thailand, in September 2014. They were both bludgeoned to death, and a post-mortem examination showed Miss Witheridge had been raped.

The killings have dented Thailand's reputation as a tourist hotspot and raised questions over its justice system and police competency.

Thailand, which has more than 450 prisoners on death row, has not executed anyone since 2009.

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