Thailand ruler rebuffs offer of British aid for backpacker murders

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Thailand’s military ruler has rejected an offer from Britain to help in the investigation into the brutal murders of two young tourists, amid mounting concerns about the way police have handled the case.

Court proceedings have reportedly started against two Burmese men accused of killing Leeds University student David Miller, 24, and 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge on the island of Koh Tao last month.

The Foreign Office said UK police “stood ready to assist with the investigation” into the deaths following widespread criticism of the handling of the case in Thailand. But Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha attempted to downplay growing international concern and insisted the UK no longer had “any more doubts” about the investigation.

According to the Bangkok Post, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters: “Anyone can come to Thailand, but don’t forget that what is our business should remain ours. I consider the Koh Tao case to be reliable.”

Mark Kent, the British ambassador to Thailand, said on Twitter that he had taken part in a three-hour meeting with Thai police, the Burmese ambassador and a “delegation” on the Koh Tao murders amid concerns about the case.

Two Burmese workers who have been charged with the killings were paraded in front of the cameras after apparently making confessions, which were reportedly later withdrawn. The suspects, named in reports as 21-year-old bar workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, were charged with three offences - conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to rape and robbery.

But later reports - denied by the Thai police - suggested that a Burmese embassy official had formally retracted their confessions amid allegations the pair were tortured.

A plea to postpone the start of the pre-trial hearings was rejected after defence lawyers wanted a delay to allow more time to prepare, according to the BBC.

Mr Swire said it was crucial for the Thai authorities to investigate the killings in a “fair and transparent way” and keep the victims’ families up to date with progress.

Following Mr Krishnamra’s meeting with Mr Swire, the Foreign Office said in a statement: “Mr Swire stressed that there was a real concern in the UK about how the investigation has been handled by the Thai authorities. He said that it was crucial for the investigation to be conducted in a fair and transparent way.

“Mr Swire emphasised how important it was that the UK and Hannah and David’s families received regular updates on the investigation’s progress. He also noted his concern about the way that the police had engaged with the media on the case and reiterated that the UK police stood ready to assist with the investigation and subsequent legal process.”

Mr Miller, from Jersey, died from drowning and a blow to the head, while Miss Witheridge, from Great Yarmouth, died from head wounds.

ends Britain’s top envoy in Thailand has met police and Burmese officials amid concerns about the handling of the investigation into the murders of a Leeds University student and a young woman backpacker.

Court proceedings have reportedly started against two Burmese men accused of killing David Miller, 24, and 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge on the island of Koh Tao last month.

A plea to postpone the start of the pre-trial hearings was rejected after defence lawyers wanted a delay to allow more time to prepare, according to the BBC.

Three potential witnesses from Burma will now testify at the court in Koh Samui, the Bangkok Post reported.

Mark Kent, the British ambassador to Thailand, said on Twitter he had taken part in a three-hour meeting with Thai police, the Burmese ambassador and a “delegation” on the Koh Tao murders.

It comes after a Thai diplomat was summoned to the Foreign Office amid concerns about the widely-criticised police investigation into the murders.

Foreign Minister Hugo Swire told Thai charge d’affaires Nadhavathna Krishnamra there was “a real concern” in the UK over the way in which the deaths of Miss Witheridge and Mr Miller have been dealt with.

Two Burmese workers who have been charged with the killings were paraded in front of the cameras after apparently making confessions, which were reportedly later withdrawn.

The suspects, named in reports as 21-year-old bar workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, were charged with three offences - conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to rape and robbery. But later reports - denied by the Thai police - suggested that a Burmese embassy official had formally retracted their confessions amid allegations the pair were tortured.

Mr Swire said it was crucial for the Thai authorities to investigate the killings in a “fair and transparent way” and keep the victims’ families up to date with progress.

Following Mr Krishnamra’s meeting with Mr Swire, the Foreign Office said in a statement: “Mr Swire stressed that there was a real concern in the UK about how the investigation has been handled by the Thai authorities. He said that it was crucial for the investigation to be conducted in a fair and transparent way.

“Mr Swire emphasised how important it was that the UK and Hannah and David’s families received regular updates on the investigation’s progress. He also noted his concern about the way that the police had engaged with the media on the case and reiterated that the UK police stood ready to assist with the investigation and subsequent legal process.”

Earlier this month, Mr Swire spoke to Thailand’s deputy prime minister Tanasak Patimapragorn about the case.

Mr Miller, from Jersey, died from drowning and a blow to the head, while Miss Witheridge, from Great Yarmouth, died from head wounds.

ends