BANGKOK (AFP) - The naked bodies of two British tourists were found beaten to death on a beach in Thailand on Monday, the police said, sparking a murder hunt on the popular resort island of Koh Tao. The police were told at 6.30am and are interviewing witnesses but have yet to identify a suspect or motive, he added.
Distraught friends of the victims gathered at the local police station, another officer said. Checkpoints have been set up at the island's piers although the ferries are still running. "This is a very cruel crime," Mr Prachum Ruangthong, superintendent of Koh Phangan police station, told AFP, adding the bodies would be sent for forensic examination in Bangkok.
The unidentified man and woman, both aged 24, were found with several wounds near a beachside bungalow on the island, a diving hot spot near Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand.
A bloodied hoe was found 35m from the murder scene, local police official Jakkrapan Kaewkhao told AFP.
"They were murdered and found naked on the beach. The woman had three wounds on her face and the man had four wounds on his back," he added. "Their bodies were found 30m from (the) bungalow," he said, adding the pair arrived in Thailand on Aug 25.
Witnesses told the police the pair were earlier seen dancing at a local bar, Mr Prachum said.
In a statement, the British Embassy in Bangkok said officials are "urgently seeking information from the local authorities".
"Consular staff stand ready to provide assistance to friends and family at this tragic time," it added.
A shocked employee at the budget seaside resort where they were staying told AFP the bodies were found behind large rocks on the beach.
"It was the first time this has happened on the island, I have never seen anything like this," the staff member added, requesting anonymity.
Koh Tao is popular with tourists but draws fewer travellers than the neighbouring Koh Phangan, home to the hedonistic "full moon" party.
Britain says Thailand is the country where its citizens are second most likely to require consular assistance if they visit, behind the Philippines.
There were 389 deaths of British nationals in Thailand in the year to March 2013 - about one for every 2,400 British visitors or residents - although that figure includes natural causes.
But it is rare for tourists to be murdered in Thailand, although visitors frequently perish in accidents.
In July last year a 51-year-old American tourist was stabbed to death after an apparent row in a bar in Krabi, another popular tourist haven.
His death came just weeks after another American was slashed to death by a taxi driver in Bangkok after an apparent argument over the fare.
A 59-year-old Australian woman was killed in June 2012 in an attempted bag snatch on Phuket.
Two Thai men were later sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder.