TIME Thailand

Suspects in the Koh Tao Murder Trial Were Given Woefully Unqualified Interpreters

Myanmar migrant worker Win Zaw Htun sits in a prison truck as he arrives at the Koh Samui Provincial Court, in Koh Samui
Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters Burmese migrant worker Zaw Lin sits in a prison truck as he arrives at the Koh Samui Provincial Court, in Koh Samui, Thailand, on July 22, 2015

The accused claim they are scapegoats and face a possible death sentence if convicted

A Thai court has heard that the interpreters used to record the confessions of two Burmese men accused of murdering a pair of British backpackers last year were in fact pancake hawkers who did not properly understand Thai or the suspects’ native Burmese dialect.

Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin, both 22, stand accused of the murder of David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao. The victims’ bloodied corpses were discovered in the early hours of Sept. 15 on popular Sairee Beach just yards from their guesthouse.

The suspects, both ethnic Rakhine from Burma’s restive western Arakan state, were working on Koh Tao at the time, and admitted to the double murder during interrogation. However, they soon recanted and claimed they were tortured into confessing.

On Thursday, Samui Central Court heard that two Rohingya Muslims — an ethnicity currently engaged in a bitter sectarian feud with the Rakhine — were employed as interpreters during their interrogation. However, they only had rudimentary understanding of Thai and the Rakhine language, reports the Myanmar Times.

One of the translators, named Ko Ye, admitted to the defense team that he signed a statement confirming what was said during the interrogation even though it was written in the Thai language, which he could not read.

Speaking to TIME in Koh Samui prison prior to the trial, Wai Phyo said the translator accused him of being party to mob violence against Rohingya in their homeland. “He asked me: ‘When the riots started in Burma, where were you? Did you burn down my village?’” said Wai Phyo.

The case continues.

TIME Burma

Burmese President Removes Party Chief in Major Purge Before Landmark Elections

Shwe Mann
Aung Shine Oo—AP In this Wednesday, Aug 12, 2015, photo, Burma's Parliament speaker Shwe Mann leaves after a press conference at the Union Solidarity and Development Party headquarters in Naypyitaw.

It's the greatest shake-up in the ruling party since the end of military dictatorship in 2011

The head of Burma’s military-backed ruling party has been removed from his position, in what appears to be a purge of a key political rival by President Thein Sein before new elections slated for Nov. 8.

Former general Shwe Mann was considered one of the three most powerful figures in the Southeast Asian nation’s nominally civilian government, and also served as speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, a post he seems to have retained for the time being.

Confirmation of his ousting came after a phalanx of security personnel were seen entering the headquarters of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Thein Sein announced he was calling an emergency meeting.

“As far as I know, no arrests have been made,” Zaw Htay, the director of the President’s Office, told the Thailand-based Democratic Voice of Burma—a nonprofit media organization that reports on Burma (formally known as Myanmar) and its rulers. “What I do know is that the president has transferred the position of joint-chairmanship [of the party] to U Htay Oo.”

Shwe Mann is considered one of the most reform-minded members of Burma’s former ruling junta, and even made conciliatory overtures to democracy icon and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who currently heads the main opposition National League for Democracy party.

It is believed that Shwe Mann’s willingness to form ties with Suu Kyi irked many hardline and conservative figures in the USDP, as well as former dictator Senior-General Than Shwe, who, despite his retirement, is known to keep a keen eye on political developments amid the impoverished nation’s reemergence from a half-century of military rule.

However, there were signs that the relationship between Shwe Mann and Suu Kyi had soured following the government’s decision not to amend constitutional provisions that barred Suu Kyi from becoming president, owing to her marriage to a foreign national and sons who hold foreign citizenship.

This has led to speculation that the current upheaval, by far the most significant to shake the USDP since the junta ceded power to a nominally civilian government in 2011, was sparked by a leadership battle. Shwe Mann has been a presidential hopeful in the past, Reuters reports, but despite Thein Sein earlier insisting that he wouldn’t serve a second term, the president now appears to want to remain in office.

Shwe Mann’s removal is just the latest turmoil to roil the USDP in recent days, after two leading figures reportedly quit the party as they were apparently refused “safe seats” in the upcoming polls. Aung Min, the president’s chief peace negotiator with ethnic rebel groups, and Soe Thein, a former minister for industry who has been hugely influential in spearheading economic reform, will now both reportedly stand as independent candidates.

TIME myanmar

Angelina Jolie Visits Female Factory Workers in Myanmar

She is on a four-day visit to the Southeast Asian nation

(YANGON, Myanmar)—Angelina Jolie has joined Myanmar’s opposition leader and democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, in sitting down with female workers to learn more about their dire conditions.

Jolie, who is a special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is on a four-day visit to the Southeast Asian nation.

Angelina Jolie myanmar refugee camp
Hkun Lat—APActress Angelina Jolie Pitt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees special envoy and co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative walks with her son Pax as they visit Jan Mai Kaung refugee camp in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar on July 30, 2015.

During her meeting with the factory workers on the outskirts of an industrial zone in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, Jolie and Suu Kyi witnessed first-hand the conditions the women live in, mostly low-cost hostels. Jolie also toured inside the factory.

She traveled to Kachin state earlier this week, home to more than 10,000 displaced people since a cease-fire between Myanmar’s government and ethnic rebels has broken down in 2011.

According to her trip details, it is unlikely that Jolie will be able to travel to western Rakhine State, where more than 100,000 Muslim minority Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditons in camps.

It is Jolie’s first visit to Myanmar, which only recently emerged from decades of military rule. More than a dozen ethnic minority groups, mostly in Myanmar’s border areas, have been fighting for greater autonomy since the country attained independence from Britain 67 years ago.

Recently, the world attention has turned to the plight of stateless Rohingya Muslims who have been trafficked from Myanmar and Bangladesh aboard overcrowded boats. Dozens of graves as well as pens likely used as cages for Rohingya have been found in abandoned jungle camps on both sides of the Thailand-Malaysian border.

TIME Burma

Burma Releases Almost 7,000 Prisoners in Holiday Pardon

Chinese nationals, who were jailed for illegal logging, walk out of Myitkyina prison after being released during an amnesty in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, north of Burma, July 30, 2015.
Reuters Chinese nationals, who were jailed for illegal logging, walk out of Myitkyina prison after being released during an amnesty in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, north of Burma, July 30, 2015

Among them, Chinese loggers, former military officials, and dissident journalists

Almost 7,000 prisoners in Burma were given presidential pardons and released Thursday, in one of the largest amnesties in the military-dominated state in recent years.

The amnesty coincides with the celebration of a national Buddhist holiday and those released included 201 foreigners, Chinese loggers, dissident journalists and military officials associated with the former Junta, the Wall Street Journal reports.

More than 150 Chinese nationals, who had been sentenced to life in jail on charges of illegal logging, were among the 6,966 freed. Their lengthy sentences had strained relations between Burma, officially now known as Myanmar, and Beijing.

New Zealander Phil Blackwood and his two colleagues, who were sentenced to two and a half years in prison for insulting the Buddhist religion, were not part of the amnesty.

Four journalists and the publisher of the weekly journal Bi Mon Te Nay were freed after spending a year behind bars on defamation charges.

However, prisoner watchdog the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) expressed disappointment that only 13 prisoners of conscience were granted freedom.

Though Thein Sein had promised to free all political prisoners by the end of 2014, as part of a much-lauded process of reform after a half-century of brutal military dictatorship, AAPP estimate around 158 remain behind bars.

Former Brigadier General Than Tun and Tin Htut, the son-in-law of the notorious former prime minister and head of military intelligence, Khin Nyunt were also released.

The mass amnesty comes as Burma gears up for a landmark election in November.

[WSJ]

TIME Thailand

Courtroom at Koh Tao Backpacker Murder Trial Hears of More Thai Police Blunders

Police admit that key CCTV cameras were not checked

Police investigating the murder of a pair of British backpackers on an idyllic Thai beach have revealed that they didn’t check key CCTV cameras — the latest troubling admission in a case deemed an acid test for Thailand’s justice system.

Burmese migrant workers Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin, both 22, are currently on trial for the murder of David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao.

The tourists’ bodies were discovered on Sept. 15 last year by rocks on Koh Tao’s popular Sairee Beach.

Both defendants deny the allegations, claiming they are scapegoats who were tortured into confessing by police seeking to safeguard the coral-fringed island’s vital tourism industry. Police deny any mistreatment.

Human-rights groups have also raised concerns that the defendants are being railroaded because of their vulnerable status as migrant workers.

Friday marked two-thirds of the way through the 18-day trial, which is split into three equal parts on Koh Tao’s neighboring island of Koh Samui, and proceedings so far have offered little to suggest that Thailand’s reputation for fumbling justice is undeserved.

On Wednesday, Police Colonel Cherdpong Chiewpreecha told the court that nobody examined CCTV footage of a boat leaving the island around an hour after the presumed time of the murders. “We have the footage, but we never checked it,” he said, according to Sky News.

Cherdpong also conceded that officers never investigated rumors of an altercation between Witheridge and a young Thai man in the AC Bar, a late-night drinking hole where both she and Miller were last seen prior to the discovery of their bodies. The defense maintains this same man may have committed the crime before fleeing the island on the boat.

Additionally, no fingerprints or DNA tests were performed on the suspected murder weapons — a wooden club and garden hoe found near the bodies — as investigators did not believe such tests would be useful following a cursory examination of the objects with a magnifying glass. (The items of evidence were brought into court in a supermarket shopping trolley, reports the Guardian.)

The revelations were met by gasps in the courtroom, where both representatives of the victims’ and defendants’ families were present. The prosecution case hinges on DNA samples from the defendants that purportedly match those retrieved from Witheridge’s corpse.

On Friday, the bench finally permitted defense lawyers to request independent retesting of all DNA evidence. However, police have already said that key DNA evidence collected from the victims had been “used up.”

Given that Thailand welcomes 25 million tourists each year, the case has unfurled in the full media glare, with foreign press outnumbering domestic. Coverage has still been spotty, though, not least because, as is common in Thailand, reporters have been barred from taking notes inside the courtroom.

According to Andrew Drummond, a British journalist who covered court cases in Thailand for 25 years, this is because any “note-taking will invariably differ with the official version.” However, in Thailand the judge takes the notes himself rather than using a designated court transcriber. “The system is open to all sorts of abuse and misuse,” adds Drummond.

Several international media outlets have also complained of being unable to find translators as prospective candidates have been scared off by local thugs, adding weight to the theory that the murders have a criminal connection.

During the initial six-day segment of the trial, a Burmese man was brought in to act as court translator. However, the defendants protested, alleging he was among those who assaulted them during interrogation. Zaw Lin said the translator was present when police “put the bags on us and punched us,” reported the Bangkok Post. “I remember his voice.”

The translator was finally dismissed after the defense complained that he was also included on the prosecution’s list of witnesses. (He declined to comment on the allegations of abuse when contacted by TIME prior to the trial.)

Fears of mistreatment were not eased when the defendants complained that they were forced to sleep in their shackles following an earlier court appearance, as no official was around to remove the chains.

“The police are terrible and unjust,” Wai Phyo told TIME in Koh Samui Prison prior to the trial. “And the judge will just act to try and protect his country.”

NOW READ: This Septic Isle: Backpackers, Bloodshed and the Secretive World of Koh Tao

TIME Thailand

This Septic Isle: Backpackers, Bloodshed and the Secretive World of Koh Tao

The death-penalty case has caused an international sensation

The balcony of room A5 at Ocean View Bungalows commands one of the finest vistas of Koh Tao’s sweeping Sairee Beach. Traditional longtail boats, a rainbow of scarves adorning their bows, bob on the lapping water of the glistening bay. And right in the foreground, rising proudly from sliver sands, protrude a scattering of granite boulders, a furtive relic of this tranquil 21-sq-km (8 sq. mi.) island’s volcanic inception.

These rocks are no strangers to explosive secrets. On Sept. 15, one of the occupants of that same room A5, Hannah Witheridge, was found bludgeoned to death in their midst alongside fellow British tourist David Miller, just a short stumble from her door. Witheridge, 23, from Great Yarmouth, a seaside town on the English east coast, had been raped and killed by blows to the head. Miller, a year older and from Jersey, one of the U.K.’s Channel Islands, had likewise suffered deep lacerations to his skull before drowning in the shallow surf.

A mute Burmese beach cleaner stumbled upon the bodies shortly after dawn. A garden hoe and wooden club found nearby were quickly fingered as the principal murder weapons.

The crime’s brutality amid Koh Tao’s insular, backpacker charm caused an international sensation and threatened to further weaken a tourist industry already reeling from the military coup of May 22, 2014, which saw hundreds arbitrarily detained and draconian new controls imposed on freedom of speech and assembly.

Junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha enraged many by hinting that the blame, at some level, lay with the attractive victims. “Will [tourists] survive in Thailand if they dress in bikinis?” he asked Sept. 17. He added that they would if “they are not beautiful.”

Prayuth soon backtracked on his remarks on travelers, saying, “Sometimes I speak too strongly.” But virtually his next breath again sought to assign blame: “We have to help take care of [our nation],” he said, “and not let not-good people mingle with us, such as unregistered alien workers.”

Investigators had already steered their attention to migrant workers, via a friend of the deceased, and the son of a local headman, who were briefly considered as suspects. DNA testing of casual workers was introduced and many migrants complained of rough interrogations, with some claiming that they were scalded with boiling water. (Police deny these allegations.)

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22-year-old ethnic Rakhine from Burma’s restive Arakan state, were arrested on Oct. 2. The police quickly elicited a confession and, after a macabre reconstruction of the murders before a swarm of media — including a staged session of penitent prayers by the accused — probably hoped that the case looked closed.

But it unraveled just as quickly. After finally receiving independent legal counsel, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, who had no prior criminal records, claimed they had been tortured during interrogation and recanted. Human-rights groups expressed serious concerns.

The 18-day trial of the two defendants, divided into three equal parts over several weeks, began on July 8. A verdict is expected in October and they could face the death penalty if convicted.

“Over the coming weeks we hope to gain a better understanding as to how such a wonderful young man lost his life in such idyllic surroundings in such a horrible way,” said Miller’s family in a statement at the opening of the trial.

Family members of Hannah Witheridge, one of the two British tourists killed on Koh Tao island, comfort each other at the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok
Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters Family members of Hannah Witheridge comfort one another at the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok, on Sept. 18, 2014

‘THE WORST THAIS IN THAILAND’

The murders of Witheridge and Miller sent shock waves through Thailand. “That the victims were tourists automatically drew more attention,” says Thai political analyst Saksith Saiyasombut. “And the shambolic investigation also didn’t help.”

Foreigners die surprisingly often here. There were 362 U.K. citizens who met their end in Thailand in 2014, more so even than in France, which attracts almost 20 times as many British visitors. But generally they lose their lives through traffic accidents, overdoses and suicides. This was very different.

Of the 25 million foreign visitors who touch down in Thailand each year, half a million grace Koh Tao, the smallest of three popular tourist islands in the Thai Gulf. The largest and most developed is Koh Samui, which also boasts the archipelago’s only international airport. The next in size is Koh Phangan, home of the infamous Full Moon parties, with a reputation for drugs and debauchery. Koh Tao is by far the smallest. Ringed by coral gardens and teeming with kaleidoscope shoals of tropical fish, it was primarily known, until now, for its diving.

But Koh Tao was a political penal colony from 1933 until 1947, and a sense of self-sufficiency and isolation exists to this day. Far from official oversight, de facto control falls to the owners of booming hospitality businesses that were developed on land originally obtained, via government concessions, for coconut plantations.

Feuding here is common and vicious. Greg Shepherd, 34, from Luton in the U.K., tells TIME he witnessed a man getting shot in the face in a bar north of Sairee Beach in the mid-2000s. “They took the victim away in a pickup truck and the barman just got a mop out and cleaned up the blood,” he says.

In general, tourists are almost comically unaware of this malevolent undercurrent. Yet it remains an open secret that “organized crime is rampant on these islands,” says Saksith. Little wonder the conversational staple of many long-term expats is, “These are the worst Thais in Thailand.”

Drugs play a key role. The sweet reek of marijuana is commonplace even in prominent beachfront bars, while cocaine and crystal meth, known locally as yaba or “crazy drug,” are not hard to find, say locals. At one establishment by Chalok Baan Chao, joints are sold for 200 baht ($6) while a magic mushroom milkshake costs 700 baht ($20). “Nice and strong,” grins the heavily tattooed barman. The families that run the island and police that guard it deny any involvement with narcotics. But the sheer ubiquity of drugs on Koh Tao suggests at the very least a high toleration of the trade.

Naturally, a pall of silence engulfs this clannish, cliquey atoll, owing in no small part to the legal standing of its foreign contingent.

There are no official figures for the number of expats who call Thailand home, but it likely runs into the hundreds of thousands. Pensions and incomes that would be less than optimum in Europe, say, or North America, can fund a life of carefree hedonism in Thailand.

On tiny Koh Tao alone, there are some 2,000 expats alongside the 2,500 registered Thais, according to Mayor Chaiyan Turasakul. Most are running guesthouses, eateries and scuba-diving operations or working as diving instructors. However, according to Rhys Bonney, an immigration adviser to expats in Thailand, even the legality of scuba-diving instructors is an “extremely gray area” as Thai work permits are specific to particular company premises. “There’s no work permit that allows you to work in 15 different locations [under the sea],” he says. “Legally, it would seem quite easy to shut these dive shops down.”

Insecure residency tends to breed compliance. “Once you’ve been living there for a while, you’ll turn a blind eye to some pretty sketchy stuff,” says Mike Earley, 30, from New Zealand, who spent six months on the island working as a DJ. Complaining about wrongdoing may invite official questions and demands for passports and documentation. Expats “don’t want to lose their time in paradise,” Earley says, “as it’s cheap, it’s nice living, and it’s very easy to ignore what happens.”

Even murder.

Hannah Witheridge murder
Athit Perawongmetha—ReutersBurmese migrant workers Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin arrive at the Koh Samui Provincial Court, in Koh Samui, Thailand, on July 8, 2015

SEVEN DAYS A WEEK FOR A PITTANCE

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo are two of an estimated 2 million irregular Burmese migrants, along with smaller numbers from neighboring Cambodia and Laos, currently working low-paid jobs in comparatively thriving Thailand. They toil in slavelike conditions for pitiful wages in occupations typically described as 3-D — dirty, dangerous, degrading.

Some work on fishing boats for years without seeing land, getting passed between trawlers, catching fish, squid and shrimp for American dinner tables. (Thailand is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter.) Others labor for long hours under the burning sun farming pineapples, exposed to hazardous doses of pesticides and other chemicals. And on Koh Tao there are around 5,000 Burmese — conspicuous by the golden streaks of thanaka paste, a traditional sunscreen and beauty product, garnishing their cheeks — who build hotels, sweep rooms and serve drinks to the coppery throngs of tourists.

They flee extreme poverty and ethnic violence in Burma (officially now known as Myanmar), the legacy of a half-century of civil war and suffocating military dictatorship. Even though recent quasi-democratic reforms have seen an influx of tourist dollars and the rolling back of sanctions, that means little for the nation’s rural poor. In fact, says Sean Turnell, a professor and expert on Burmese economics at Australia’s Macquarie University, “The economic circumstances of Myanmar’s majority rural population are now marginally worse than before the reforms were launched.”

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo know this too well. Speaking exclusively to TIME at Koh Samui Prison, both appear much younger than their 22 years. Zaw Lin, as pimply as any teen, chats eagerly of his love of Manchester United and star Portuguese winger Nani. Wai Phyo, a Real Madrid fanatic who idolizes FIFA world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, moves a virtually hairless top lip as he talks.

“My father died when I was very young,” says Zaw Lin, “so l left school aged 8 and started helping my mother in the fields when I was 10.” Facing worsening poverty, around two years ago he paid a broker 5,000 baht ($150) to transport him to Koh Tao, heartened by tales he’d heard of fellow villagers who had eked out a successful living there. Since then, he had managed to send back almost $2,000 to help his destitute family. “It’s something but it’s not enough,” he says.

To be able to work on Koh Tao, illegal Burmese migrants paid a 500-baht ($15) bribe each month, plus another 500 baht if they want to use a motorbike without a Thai driving license. Typically, they work seven days a week for a pittance, sleeping in bamboo shacks erected in jungle clearances. Possessing no official status or documents, their vulnerability is extreme, and complaints of rape, extortion and physical violence are legion. “Burmese people are treated as second-class citizens,” says Saksith. “Dehumanizing as it sounds, they are a commodity for some people.”

Asked whether he has a message for his compatriots considering working in Thailand, Wai Phyo simply says, “Be careful when you go out at night as you might step in the wrong place.”

Police measure footprints of a man as data is collected from people who work near the spot where bodies of two killed British tourists were found, on the island of Koh Tao
Chaiwat Subprasom—ReutersPolice measure footprints of a man as data is collected from people who work near the spot where bodies of two killed British tourists were found, on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand, on Sept. 19, 2014

‘WE HAVE LEARNED TO TAKE CARE OF VISITORS’

Theories abound on Koh Tao about who killed Miller and Witheridge. Many believe the true culprits are local, and these suspicions were fueled after a Scottish friend of Miller fled the island claiming to have had his life threatened by local thugs.

Nevertheless, few have rallied to the defense of the accused. One of Wai Phyo’s former employers, who saw him soon after Sept. 15 and noticed no perceivable change in his demeanor, has refused to be a character witness or be named by TIME. “I’ve not been threatened, but I’ve too much to lose,” he says. “This is the wild west.”

At present, the case rests on DNA evidence linking cigarette butts found around 20 m from the bodies next to a crooked log where Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo admit they were playing guitar and drinking beer on the evening in question. These samples purportedly match those retrieved from Witheridge’s corpse.

But many have concerns that the scene was contaminated immediately after the discovery of the bodies; myriad officials, journalists and even bewildered tourists were seen traipsing through the area while evidence was still being gathered. Gruesome photos of the bloodied corpses circulated online, either leaked by officials or even taken by passersby. Thailand’s forensics chief, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand, has said that by not using trained specialists, “police contradicted the principles of forensic science.”

Forensic evidence is processed independently in the U.S. or U.K. and many other jurisdictions around the world, safeguarding a proper chain of custody. But in Thailand, the police perform the entire process. This is troubling when set against the allegations of torture made by the accused.

Wai Phyo says officers removed his clothes and left him naked in a freezing room for 20 minutes. “They beat me and put a bag over my head, humiliating me by taking pictures and a video,” he said. “They threatened to kill me, saying: ‘We can throw you into the sea and feed your corpse to the fish.’”

Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission investigated these allegations, but progress has been glacial, not least because police representatives failed to turn up to four arranged meetings. The police categorically deny any mistreatment and no officer has been charged to date.

Torture allegations aside, the proceedings have been peppered with oddities. The families of Miller and Witheridge even put out a statement saying the evidence against Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo was “powerful and convincing.” This assertion was facilitated by the U.K. Foreign Office despite being prejudicial toward the possibility of a fair trial. (Both families declined to comment when contacted by TIME.)

More recently, a court order to allow Dr. Pornthip to review the DNA evidence was rescinded. “The defense lawyers urgently need both crucial information gained from the re-examination of forensic evidence in this case and also adequate time to consider this information prior to the trial beginning,” said lead defense lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat in a statement last month.

On July 10, the bench again ordered the DNA to be retested, only for the police to reveal that certain key samples — specifically those retrieved from the victims’ bodies — had been used up. The only items still available for retesting were objects found around the crime scene, including the suspected murder weapons, but one witness claimed that these had been washed.

According to Kingsley Abbott, Southeast Asia legal expert for the International Commission of Jurists, “The defense must be afforded adequate time and facilities to explore whether the alleged destruction of evidence in this case was appropriate and unavoidable, and to test the prosecution case overall.”

Back on Koh Tao, authorities have scrambled to blot out the tragedy. “Koh Tao is very safe,” says Mayor Chaiyan. “Because we have learned for generations to take care of visitors.” A brand new police station has been built with 40 full-time officers replacing the five previously based here. A process of registering irregular Burmese migrant workers has been introduced to tackle the semiofficial bribes, though many say abuses continue unabated.

Few of the visitors on Sairee Beach today are even aware the murders took place. “I had no idea,” says Jordi Cramer, 21, a waitress from Edmonton, Canada, when TIME speaks to her strolling past the granite-hemmed crime scene. “I did feel safe, but that is scary.”

Scared is right. For while the surf has washed the blood from the sand, and life returns to normal for the island’s hodgepodge of wealthy and penniless inhabitants, one fact remains clear: not just the boulders hide secrets on Koh Tao.

David Miller and Hannah Witheridge
Family handoutsDavid Miller, 24, from Jersey, left, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Great Yarmouth
TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in June, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Tomas Munita’s powerful work on Burma’s persecuted Rohingya minority. The photographs, made on assignment for The New York Times, capture a camp in Sittwe, Burma, where some 140,000 Rohingya live in bamboo huts without electricity, in conditions that partly explain why thousands of the Muslim ethnic group have tried to migrate across Asia these past few months.

Tomas Munita: For the Rohingya of Burma, a Hardscrabble Existence (The New York Times)

James Nachtwey: The Plight of the Rohingya (TIME LightBox) TIME’s contract photographer travelled to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, to document the plight of Asia’s newest boat people.

Pete Muller: Seeking the Source of Ebola (National Geographic) World Press Photo winner Muller’s excellent pictures track the Ebola outbreak from Democratic Republic of Congo to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast.

Rena Effendi: In the Footsteps of Gandhi (National Geographic) Effendi’s beautiful color photographs look at the great Indian leader’s impact, past and present.

Robin Hammond: Chronicling the Struggles of LGBT People Around the World (TIME LightBox) Moving portraits series on survivors of discrimination

David Guttenfelder: Illuminating North Korea (The New York Times) Yet another fascinating look at the hermit kingdom by the National Geographic Society Fellow.

Matt Black: Geography of Poverty (MSNBC) The new Magnum nominee is expanding his project documenting poverty from California to rest of the U.S.

Philip Montgomery: Scott Walker and the Fate of the Union (The New York Times Magazine) Stunning black and white pictures document the fight to protect workers’ rights in Wisconsin.

Arnau Bach: Stranded in Marseille (The New Yorker Photo Booth) Bach won the Pierre and Alexandra Boulat grant in 2013 and used the funds to make a portrait of one of the poorest French cities.

Charles Ommanney: The Black Route to Europe (The Washington Post) These photographs track one Syrian family’s journey from Aleppo to Austria| More on the Washington Post In Sight blog: Pt.1 and Pt. 2.

TIME India

India Is Using Its Military Incursions Into Burma to Send a Message to Other Countries

New Delhi wants its neighbors to know it can no longer be pushed around, analysts say

The Indian army’s recent operations against militants along its eastern borders remains largely shrouded in mystery and continued to cause controversy on Thursday, two days after special forces crossed the border into Burma (officially known as Myanmar) and inflicted “significant casualties” at two bases belonging to insurgents there.

The Burmese government denied the operation completely, with a Facebook post from the director of the president’s office reportedly saying that according to their information the operation was performed only on the Indian side of the border.

“Myanmar will not accept any foreigner who attacks neighboring countries in the back and creates problems by using our own territory,” he said, according to Indian local media.

It is still unclear how much of the Indian operation Burma was privy to, but a senior Indian military official had said on Wednesday that authorities from both countries had been in contact about the strikes. The back-and-forth allegations and denials, however, have created a degree of friction between two countries and armies that have generally been on good terms with each other.

“It creates a problem for the Myanmar government,” Rumel Dahiya, deputy director-general of New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, and a former brigadier in the Indian army, said in an interview with TIME.

Dahiya says India’s trumpeting of the operation’s success — a swift retaliation for a militant attack that killed 20 Indian soldiers in the northeastern state of Manipur last week — places the Burmese between a rock and a hard place, no matter whether they admit knowledge of the Indian operation or not. “What do they say?” he said, pointing out that 2015 is also an election year for Burma. “In both cases it creates a bit of a complication for them.”

Instead, Dahiya advocates greater coordination with the Burmese government, with the sharing of military intelligence and the planning of joint operations. “Doing these kinds of things repeatedly would become a problem unless they are on board,” he said.

The indication from the Indian government seems to be that such operations will continue to take place, with Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar saying on Thursday that the Burma operation represents a change in India’s mindset.

“Those who fear India’s new posture have already started reacting,” he said, according to the Times of India, in a pointed dig at the South Asian nation’s contentious neighbor Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the 1950s, and the disputed region of Kashmir remains a thorn in both their sides and a hotbed for regional terrorism.

“Pakistan is not Myanmar, and India should not think of repeating such an exercise inside Pakistani territory,” Pakistani interior minister Nisar Ali Khan had warned after the attack.

Many have criticized the Indian government’s “chest-thumping” over the successful covert operation, and although Dahiya also feels it is “definitely not required” he adds that it is part of a larger point that the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi wishes to drive home.

“The government is trying to convey a message that you can’t push India around, it’s a big country and it’s a country which can take care of its national interests,” he says, citing the reduction in ceasefire violations on the India-Pakistan border and Modi’s strong response to border infractions by China during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit last year as examples.

The Burma operation probably doesn’t represent the new norm in Indian foreign policy, Dahiya adds, but it does send the signal that “should an eventuality arise where the cost-benefit analysis suggests it is better to do that than being subjected to a major act of terror, then as the Americans say, all options are on the table.”

TIME Burma

China Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Burma’s Democracy Icon Aung San Suu Kyi

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SOE THAN WIN—AFP/Getty Images National League for Democracy chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a press conference at the parliament building in Naypyidaw, Burma, on April 9, 2015

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is scheduled to meet both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang

Shortly after Burma’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was released from her most recent bout of house arrest in 2010, she fielded a surprise visitor at the party headquarters of her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). According to a senior NLD figure who was present at the meeting, the well-wisher was none other than a Chinese diplomatic envoy to Myanmar, as Burma is officially known. “China realized the Lady is powerful, and they wanted to curry favor,” he recalled, referring to Suu Kyi by her feminine sobriquet. “The Chinese, they know how to do this foreign policy business very well indeed.”

On June 10, Suu Kyi landed in Beijing, her first visit to Burma’s largest and most influential neighbor. Although the schedule of her five-day visit has been kept closely guarded, NLD associates say she will also visit Shanghai and Yunnan province, which is on China’s border with Burma’s conflict-ridden northern flank. On the afternoon of June 11, Suu Kyi met with China’s President Xi Jinping and is also scheduled to meet with Premier Li Keqiang, according to the NLD. (Earlier on Thursday she also convened with China’s foreign policy-focused state councilor Yang Jiechi.) That is the kind of all-star line-up usually reserved for major national leaders, not opposition party figures.

But Suu Kyi is no ordinary opposition figure. Although she is constitutionally barred from the Burmese presidency because of rules that seem to have been designed specifically with her in mind, her NLD is expected to prevail in national elections in November. The polls are part of a quasi-democratic transition envisaged by Burma’s military leaders, who still control many levers of power, even if some have shed their army uniforms.

During the long years when Burma languished as a pariah state, shunned by the West because of its appalling human-rights record, China provided financial and moral support. Today, China is still the largest foreign investor in Burma. But its once preeminent position has been challenged as other nations shed sanctions on the regime (and its cronies) and consider doing business in one of the world’s last economic frontiers. Notably, U.S. President Barack Obama has visited Burma twice, and his Administration has held up the country’s reforms as a foreign policy triumph, even as ethnic violence has marred the feel-good narrative.

Burma boasts a treasure trove of natural resources, from jade and hydropower to natural gas and timber. An illegal bounty of opium and other drugs is also primed for export. But China’s involvement in two major projects — the Myitsone Dam in northern Kachin state and the Letpadaung copper mine in central Burma — has rankled the Burmese public. The hydropower project is officially suspended while protests against the mine have been met by violent government intimidation. In 2013, Suu Kyi, who chaired a parliamentary commission investigating the mine project, met with rare local opposition when the panel’s report recommended the mine go ahead despite its social and environmental impact.

China-Burma relations have also been tested by armed conflict in northern Kachin and Shan states between ethnic rebels and the Burmese military, which has sent refugees and missiles across the two nations’ border. (Many of the ethnic minorities who live in northern Burma also have large populations in Yunnan province.) Earlier this year, several Chinese villagers living near the national demarcation were killed by what the Chinese government says was errant Burmese military shelling. While China has officially protested the killing of its citizens, the Burmese government’s reaction has not been fulsome. One Burmese government adviser, who is not authorized to speak to the media, speculates that this is because his bosses believe the Chinese military is providing financial support to some of the ethnic armies battling the Burmese.

On June 10, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called on Burma to answer “relevant requests put in by China, stop the warfare, ease the tension, and restore peace, stability and normal order to the China-Myanmar border area at an early date.” A day later, the official China Daily quoted a Chinese academic who blamed anti-Chinese sentiment in Burma on “lack of knowledge of China and distorted reports of some Western media.”

If Beijing is at all uncomfortable with extending a welcome to one of the world’s most famous democracy activists, the nation’s propaganda machine isn’t saying. (The visit is officially on the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party to the NLD.) In an editorial on Suu Kyi’s tour, China’s official Xinhua news agency offered a fig leaf: “China welcomes anyone with friendly intentions and it bears no grudge for past unpleasantness.”

Still, China Digital Times, which documents Chinese government censorship directives from its base in California, noted that Chinese media were instructed not to report on “the delegation from Myanmar visiting China.” Instead, state media would shape the official narrative on Suu Kyi’s visit. (On Thursday, Burma’s official New Light of Myanmar refrained from covering Suu Kyi’s China trip.)

Meanwhile, human-rights advocates wondered whether Suu Kyi would use her inaugural trip to China to comment on the plight of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who remains in a Chinese jail for his role in publishing a democracy manifesto. A poet and writer, Liu was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in 2009 for inciting subversion of state power — a common tactic used to silence independent voices in China. But those hoping that Suu Kyi will speak out on behalf of Liu may be disappointed. In a worrying precedent, even as Buddhist persecution of ethnic Rohingya Muslims in western Burma has intensified, Burma’s democracy icon has largely stayed silent.

TIME India

Indian Special Forces Cross Border Into Myanmar to Battle Militant Groups

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STR—AFP/Getty Images In this photograph taken on June 4, 2015, Indian security personnel stand alongside the smouldering vehicle wreckage at the scene of an attack on a military convoy in a remote area of Chandel district, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of northeastern Manipur's state capital Imphal.

A statement from the army said they had inflicted "significant casualties"

Soldiers from the Indian army conducted an operation against militant groups along the border with Myanmar in the country’s northeast on Tuesday, with special forces allegedly also entering Myanmar to perform “surgical strikes”.

A statement by the army said its offensive had resulted in “significant casualties” among the militants who killed 20 Indian soldiers in the region less than a week ago, Reuters reported.

Carrying out cross-border operations is not common practice for India, and the army only mentioned two areas in its own states Nagaland and Manipur. However, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting and a former army colonel, confirmed that Indian forces had crossed over into Myanmar, the Indian Express reported.

Maj. Gen. Ranbir Singh, the Additional Director General for Military Operations, told the Express that the Indians had been in communication with Myanmar authorities regarding the counteraction against the rebel groups.

“There is a history to close cooperation between our two militaries,” Singh said. “We look forward to working with them to combat such terrorism.”

The Indian army has been battling separatist militant groups in its northeastern region for several years, and the attack in Manipur by one such group that killed 20 soldiers using rocket-propelled grenades and explosives last Thursday was termed as one of the worst-ever in the region.

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