Former Thai police officer charged with murdering woman whose killing led to discovery of mass grave

BANGKOK (AFP) - A former policeman in Thailand has been charged with murdering a woman whose fate led to the discovery of a suspected mass grave, police said on Monday (May 16).

Reports about a large burial site in the north-east, where criminal gangs may have dumped bodies for years, have swirled in the local media in recent weeks.

The investigation began when the daughter of a woman who was strangled in June 2014 took reporters to a remote jungle area where her mother's burnt corpse was first discovered. She said she wanted to highlight what she described as a lack of police interest in investigating the killing.

During the visit, reporters found bones that looked human. Subsequent police investigations have uncovered at least nine possible sites containing bones, some of them certified as human, while 41 people with missing relatives have come forward to offer DNA samples.

At a press conference in the north-eastern city of Khon Kaen, officers on Monday announced that two people, including a former policeman, had been charged with the June 2014 murder.

"We know two people were involved. One was Pramote, a former policeman and one was a suspect we have here today (called) Boonna," said Police Major-General Yanyong Vetkosol.

Boonna admitted being involved in the woman's killing, saying she had a dispute with the former police officer about money. It is common practice in Thailand for suspects who admit their guilt to be presented to the media.

Investigators added that Pramote is already serving jail time for another murder.

Police have been at pains to distance themselves from any suggestion their officers may be linked to killings or to a mass grave site.

The country's police have long had a reputation for corruption, with many Thais likening them to a mafia in uniform.

Thailand's junta chief, a former head of the army, has vowed to clean up the police and has transferred or sacked a number of high-profile officers.

Police in Khon Kaen said more time was needed to investigate the potential mass grave and discover whether the remains are from missing people.