PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s first overseas trip since seizing power on May 22 was greeted with a protest in Yangon this morning over the controversial arrest of two 21-year-old migrant workers from Myanmar for the murder of two British tourists in Thailand last month.
Nay Myo Zin, a former military captain who runs the Yangon-based Myanmar Social Development Network, said yesterday that protesters would gather between 8am and 9am at Maha Bandoola Park to call for an independent investigation into the charges against the two 21-year-old Myanmar migrant workers: Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun.
“I urge every Myanmar citizen who loves the truth to participate in the demonstration,” he told Daily Eleven yesterday.
“I will call for an independent investigation into the case against the two Myanmar suspects who have been accused without concrete evidence,” he said, adding that flaws in the police investigation had already been pointed out in Thailand.
The pair has been described as “scapegoats” for the grisly murders and rape on Koh Tao (Turtle Island) in Thailand’s Surat Thani province on September 15. The crime cast an unseemly light on Thailand’s carefully constructed image as a safe and friendly destination for tourists, while the arrest of migrant workers raised concern among rights groups who said it fit a common pattern in Thailand of blaming migrants for crimes.
Nay Myo Zin said the initial location for the demonstration was in front of the Thai embassy, but protest organisers were denied permission to protest there.
Prayut, the general who led the coup against Thailand’s elected government, is making his first overseas visit since resigning from the military to become prime minister. He is expected to discuss the high-profile murder case with President Thein Sein when they meet in Nay Pyi Taw. Prayut is also scheduled to meet executives of Thai businesses in Yangon.
Representatives of the Myanmar Embassy met the suspects earlier this week as well as a witness against them, Maung Maung, who said he knew nothing about the case and was included as a witness for the prosecution only because police found the trousers of one of the suspects in his room.
Both suspects have recanted their confessions, saying they had been tortured into making them. Thai prosecutors, meanwhile, have sent the reportedly more than 800-page case file back to police, saying it lacked “critical information”, while the country’s top forensic expert has also questioned the investigation. Porntip Rojanasunan, head of Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science, told Thai media that the way police handled the case “contradicted the principles of forensic science”.
Prayut and Thein Sein are also expected to discuss energy, border security, the cross border narcotics trade and the Dawei special economic zone. While the two governments attempt to restart the stalled SEZ, civil society groups in the area are joining forces to call for greater transparency, more involvement with local communities, environmental safeguards and a ban on chemical and coal-fired plants at the SEZ.
Prayut has faced little public protest in Thailand since seizing power, after which he curtailed press freedom and clamped down on dissent. His visit to Myanmar is occurring as the country is undergoing a transition from military rule to democracy.