October 3, 2014 / 4:03 AM / 3 years ago

Two Myanmar men admit to murders of Britons in Thailand; DNA matches: police

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

Two workers from Myanmar (wearing helmets and handcuffs), suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, stand near Thai police officers during a re-enactment of the alleged crime, where the bodies of the tourists were found on Koh Tao island October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

The Southeast Asian nation, which generates almost 10 percent of gross domestic product from tourism, is still under martial law after a May 22 coup that scared off some tourists.

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 suspects admitted that they are the real culprits so we have brought both to do a reconstruction,” national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said.

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 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.”

“SUSPICIOUS”

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.”

Police chief Somyot said the suspects had made no request for lawyers.

“They haven’t asked for lawyers. If they had asked for lawyers we would have provided lawyers for them as this is their basic right.”

Migrant workers, particularly from neighboring Myanmar, have been used as scapegoats for crimes in Thailand before. The rape and murder of 23-year-old Welsh backpacker Kirsty Jones in 2000 was blamed on an ethnic Karen guide from Myanmar who was beaten by police in an attempt to coerce a confession.

Despite a number of arrests, no charges have ever been brought over her death.

Thailand hosts about 2.5 million migrants from its poorer neighbors. Many take jobs Thais do not want in fishing, agriculture and construction. Many work as domestic helpers or cleaners in hotels and restaurants.

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.

Additional reporting by Kaweewit Kaewjinda and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel

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