BANGKOK (AP) — Two migrant workers from Myanmar were arrested Friday after police said they confessed to killing two British tourists whose battered bodies were found on a beach in southern Thailand last month, in a case that damaged the image of the country's tourism industry.
Thailand's national police chief Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung said the DNA results released late Thursday night backed up the confessions of the two men to raping and killing 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge, and killing David Miller, 24, on Koh Tao, an island known for its pristine diving sites.
"This has shown the hard work of the police and I'd like to praise the officers who are involved in working on this case, and there might be some rewards for them," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who took power after leading a military coup in May, told reporters. In the immediate aftermath of the killings, he had stirred controversy by suggesting that bikini-wearing tourists might attract such attacks, a comment for which he has apologized.
Police identified the 21-year-old workers from Myanmar's western Rakhine state as "Win" and "Saw." Both were detained on the island Thursday and questioned by police who brought them to the crime scene Friday to re-enact their alleged crimes, a standard part of criminal investigations in Thailand.
Crowds of onlookers watched as the suspects were led to the rocky alcove along the shore where the two bodies were discovered Sept. 15. Autopsies showed that Witheridge died from head wounds while Miller suffered severe blows to the head and drowned in the surf. It is still unclear what prompted the killings.
During the re-enactment, the two men wore flak jackets and motorcycle helmets as protection against angry residents, who fear the crime will damage tourism to the remote island.
"There was clear evidence: forensic evidence, (testimony from) witnesses and other evidence, as well as closed-circuit television footage," Somyot told reporters. "The police and investigation teams have analyzed all evidence and it's clear that the two suspects committed the crime on that day."
The two face charges of murder, rape and theft, but have not yet been formally charged, Somyot said. They are expected to remain in custody until they are brought to court. He said in a telephone interview with ThaiPBS television that police searched the residence of the suspects and found a mobile phone suspected to belong to one of the British tourists.
About 2.5 million people from Myanmar work in this Southeast Asian country, most as domestic servants or in low-skilled manual labor industries like construction, fisheries or the garment sector. Thailand's military-installed government has described migrant workers as a threat to national security, and fears have been expressed that such workers could be scapegoats for the crime.
"From now on, we have to be careful not to let an incident like this be repeated," said Prayuth, adding that he had asked the Labor Ministry to handle the issue of undocumented migrant workers since there were reports that the two suspects were working without proper legal papers.
Koh Tao, about 410 kilometers (250 miles) south of Bangkok, is a quiet, small island a short boat ride from Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. The latter is known for raucous "full moon" parties that attract young foreigners and Thais.