BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday dismissed growing diplomatic concern about a police investigation into the murder of two British tourists in Thailand as a pre-trial witness hearing began.
Prayuth denied that the Thai charge d‘affaires in London, Nadhavathna Krishnamra, had been summoned over concern about how Thai authorities have handled the case.
“They did not summon us. We went to provide clarification to them,” Prayuth told reporters. “We went to show them how we work. They might be surprised at how quickly we work but we explained the steps we have in place.”
Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were found dead on a beach on the island of Koh Tao in September. Miller, 24, had died from drowning and a blow to the head while Witheridge, 23, died from head wounds.
The British government said on Monday it had summoned Thailand’s top diplomatic representative in London to call for the investigation to be “conducted in a fair and transparent way” amid growing concern that two Myanmar men charged with the murders may have admitted to the crimes under duress.
Police said the two workers from Myanmar, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, had admitted to killing the tourists and that DNA found on Witheridge matched samples taken from the men.
They have been charged with murder, rape and robbery.
British Ambassador to Thailand Mark Kent said on Tuesday he had met Thai police, Myanmar’s envoy to Thailand and Thai Foreign Ministry officials to discuss the case.
He gave no details.
The murders dealt a fresh blow to Thailand’s tourism industry, which accounts for 10 percent of gross domestic product. Thailand is under martial law following a May coup and the sector is struggling to recover from months of political protests.
The arrests of the two Myanmar men followed intense scrutiny of the police who had been accused of bungling the investigation in the days following the killings.
A pre-trial witness hearing began on Tuesday and the two suspects were in court but did not give testimony. Their lawyers called for the trial to be postponed to allow more time to prepare a defense but the plea was rejected.
“The lawyer just had contact with the suspects yesterday. They need time to talk and understand each other before the trial,” said Andy Hall, a British rights activist and researcher based in Thailand who is monitoring the case.
“Both the British and the Myanmar governments have asked for a fair trial and a fair trial takes time.”
Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Jutarat Skulpichetrat; Editing by Robert Birsel