By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Two workers from Myanmar have admitted to killing two British tourists on an island in southern Thailand, police said on Friday, in a case that has threatened to further damage the Southeast Asian nation's already bruised tourism sector.
The bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were discovered on a beach on the island of Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, on Sept. 15 close to the hotel where they were staying.
"Two workers from Myanmar have admitted to killing the foreigners and we are questioning a third," said Police Lieutenant General Panya Mamen, acting assistant national police chief.
The news follows weeks of pressure on police to solve the murders and growing criticism leveled at authorities over the quality of their investigation.
Authorities have expressed concern that inability to solve the case would further damage the tourism industry, which accounts from almost 10 percent of GDP, and which has struggled to recover since the military imposed martial law in May and later seized power in a coup.
"We are now gathering evidence and will request an arrest warrant from the court. The suspects are under our custody now," said deputy national police chief Lieutenant General Jaktip Chaijinda.
He added that a third Myanmar national had been held since Thursday on suspicion of involvement.
Thai national police chief Police General Somyot Poompanmoung is expected to give a press conference later on Friday in Koh Tao.
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 neighboring Myanmar who was beaten by police in an attempt to coerce a confession.
The 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.
Thailand hosts around 2.5 million migrants from neighboring countries including Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Many perform the jobs most Thais are unwilling to do in the fishing, agriculture and construction industries. Many work as domestic helpers.
"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 and in Thailand," Jaktip said.
"Today the case should be finished because we want to clarify this case as soon as possible so that our tourism industry can bounce back."
(Additional reporting by Kaweewit Kaewjinda; Editing by Michael Perry)