Thai police says DNA match found for Koh Tao murders

Thai national police chief Police General Somyot Poompanmoung (centre) stands next to two detained workers from Myanmar, suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, on Oct 3, 2014. Two Myanmar workers have conf
Thai national police chief Police General Somyot Poompanmoung (centre) stands next to two detained workers from Myanmar, suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, on Oct 3, 2014. Two Myanmar workers have confessed to killing two British tourists in Thailand and a DNA match has been found, police said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Two Myanmar workers have confessed to killing two British tourists in Thailand and a DNA match has been found, police said, adding that a case that damaged the country's tourism industry had almost been resolved.

"The suspects admitted that they are the real culprits. So we have brought both to do a reconstruction (of the crime)", national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said on Friday.

The men, identified by police as Saw and Win, wore white motorcycle helmets and handcuffs as they took part in the re-enactment, a common practice in Thai murder cases.

The bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were discovered on a beach on Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, in the south of the country on Sept 15, close to the hotel where they had been staying.

The pair raped Witheridge before killing her, Somyot told reporters in Koh Tao, adding that the DNA of the two men matched DNA found on the deceased.

The news follows weeks of pressure on police to find the murderers and growing criticism of authorities over the standard of the investigation, from not sealing off the crime scene quickly enough to letting potential suspects leave the island.

With two suspects in custody, police were gathering evidence and would seek an arrest warrant from a court, deputy national police chief Jaktip Chaijinda said. A third Myanmar citizen had been held since Thursday on suspicion of involvement, he added.

"Today the case should be finished because we want to clear this case up as soon as possible so that our tourism industry can bounce back," Jaktip said.

Miller died from drowning and blows to the head, while Witheridge died from severe head wounds, post-mortem examinations by Thai forensic officials have shown.

Somyot attributed the crime to sexual jealousy.

"The suspects saw them kissing and were aroused, so they attacked and got rid of the man and proceeded to rape the female victim."

Migrant workers, particularly those from Myanmar, are often used as scapegoats for crimes in Thailand.

The high-profile rape and murder of 23-year-old Welsh backpacker Kirsty Jones in 2000 was blamed on an ethnic Karen guide from neighbouring Myanmar who was beaten by police in an attempt to coerce a confession.

That case was handed over to the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand's answer to the FBI. Despite a number of arrests, no charges have ever been brought over her death.

Police denied making the Myanmar suspects scapegoats.

"In this sort of case we usually do not take risks and have never thought of bringing in a scapegoat because this is a case with interest worldwide," Jaktip said.

Some rights groups have voiced concern over the lack of legal representation for the men.

"The suspects have been kept without legal representation. We still don't have lawyers observing the process directly,"said Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a human rights activist. "So we are suspicious about the judicial process in terms of these alleged confessions."