Koh Tao accused appeal directly to UK

Koh Tao accused appeal directly to UK

The Myanmar nationals accused of killing two British backpackers have appealed directly to the victims' families and British authorities for help in clearing their names.

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo — the latter was previously and incorrectly named by authorities as Win Zaw Htun — made the appeal in a letter handed to Peter Walker, a correspondent for The Guardian, during their most recent court appearance in Koh Samui this week.

The two young migrant workers are facing possible death sentences for the slaying of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on the southern island of Koh Tao on Sept 15. They are also charged with raping Witheridge.

The men initially confessed to the crimes but later retracted their confessions, saying they had been tortured and threatened with death by their interrogators.

They reiterated that they were not involved and asked UK authorities to share with their lawyers the results of a UK Metropolitan Police review of the Thai investigation.

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were arrested on Oct 2, 17 days after the murders occurred, after an investigation that had drawn widespread criticism. The original crime scene was compromised, and several theories advanced and discarded by different officers in the first few days, when no one appeared to be properly in charge.

Thai police say they have DNA evidence linking the two young men from western Rakhine State to the crime, but that too has been questioned because of the haste with which the test was completed.

In an interview with The Guardian correspondent in the Samui courtroom, the accused described their shock at being accused, and their concerns for their parents in Myanmar, who were reliant on the men's earnings from their bar jobs on Koh Tao.

The pair passed the Guardian correspondent an open letter addressed to the victims' parents.

Handwritten in Burmese, and with their names signed in English, it reads: “We are really distraught about the loss of your children, and we share your grief. But we want to stress to you that we didn’t do anything wrong, and this crime was nothing to do with us.

“In order that the truth can be revealed, we want to ask for help from all of you to ensure that we get access to information that the British government has. We would like this information to be shared with our lawyers so the truth can come out. We really want to express our thanks for your help.”

A month after the murders, the Foreign Office in London took the rare step of summoning a Thai diplomat to express its concern about the way the investigation had been handled.

A Metropolitan Police team flew to Thailand to review the case but its report has yet to be completed, the Foreign Office said this week.

During a break in Wednesday's court hearing, the accused spoke to The Guardian through a translator.

“I felt very scared when we were arrested, and also very shy that all these people were looking at me," said Wai Phyo. "I didn’t know what was happening. I am not a bad person. I’m a good person.”

Zaw Lin said he was worried about his family in Myanmar: “My father has died and I was providing for my mother. I’m just really worried about her now. Now we just want to go back to [Myanmar]. We don’t want to work here any more. I don’t care about being poor, I just want to be at home with my family.”

The pair said that on the night of the murder they had been drinking heavily and playing guitar on the beach, and by late evening were “so drunk we couldn’t walk properly”. They both said they had no idea who carried out the crime.

The accused remain in prison while police continue to compile a report for prosecutors, who said the original 300-page report lacked sufficient details to support a prosecution.

The men can be detained for a maximum of 84 days, meaning they must be bound over for trial or released by Christmas.

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