Police said this morning DNA from two Burmese migrant workers matched traces found at the crime scene where they’ve confessed to killing a pair of British holidaymakers whose battered bodies were found on Koh Tao last month.
David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found dead on the normally tranquil backpacker haven of Koh Tao on Sept. 15, rocking the island’s small community. The grisly double-murder dented Thailand’s image as a tourist paradise, while the police have come under intense scrutiny for their handling of the investigation.
“Two Myanmar suspects have confessed to killing the pair,” National police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told AFP, adding that their DNA matched traces found at the crime scene. A third Myanmar national had been held since Thursday on suspicion of involvement, Somyot, Thailand’s top policeman, added. “The third suspect said he left the crime scene before murder took place,” Somyot said. “DNA test results (from the two men) confirmed that the same DNA was found in the body of the (female) victim,” he added.
Kiattipong Khaosamang, the provincial police chief, told AFP that the two men had also admitted to raping Witheridge. “Both raped the female victim,” he said, adding the pair were killed with a wooden stick and a garden hoe, which was found bloodied at the scene. Police are waiting for a local court to issue a warrant so the men can be charged, he added.
Breakthrough meets skepticism
Thai authorities frequently accuse migrants from Myanmar and Cambodia of committing crimes in the kingdom, where they make up a vast, poorly-paid and low-status workforce. But police have insisted they would not scapegoat anyone for the crime, despite coming under immense pressure to get a result as anger built over an apparently sluggish investigation in the days after the bodies were found.
Police have since DNA-tested scores of people in and around Koh Tao and questioned dozens of people – including friends of Miller – and Friday’s seeming breakthrough will ease the scrutiny on the Thai force.
Critics – especially among the British media – have accused Thai authorities of bungling the investigation in the near three weeks since the murders by chasing the wrong leads and failing to lock down the island in the hours following the killings. The media pack was allowed to trample all over the crime scene just hours after the crime, while information – often erroneous – flowed out unfiltered until the intervention of the nation’s top police officer.
According to a Morning News report, the scene of the crime is near a wooden log where witnesses suggest the three Burmese men were often seen playing guitar.
Police recovered several cigarette butts from there and said they collected DNA evidence.
Police claim Win, 21, confessed to playing guitar on the wooden log near the crime spot with the two other Burmese workers, Saw and Mao. According to police, he said Mao departed the scene before he and Saw spotted the tourists together. Win said he became aroused, police say, so the two men picked up a shovel nearby and snuck up to hit Miller on the head before dragging his body away. Then they turned to assault Witheridge, according to police.
The killings delivered a fresh blow to Thailand’s image as a tourist haven after months of political protests that ended in May’s army coup. Days after the murders, Thailand’s junta chief was forced into an apology after he suggested tourists in bikinis could be more vulnerable to attack – comments which caused an international outcry.
With the peak tourist season fast approaching Thai authorities are desperate to draw a line under the incident. “I think the tourist confidence will improve,” Kobkarn Wattanavarangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports told AFP, hours after the apparent confessions. “The issue of tourist security is very important to us,” she said.
On Tuesday, tourist authorities announced plans to give holidaymakers wristbands carrying their personal details in an effort to ensure the safety of tourists.
Story: AFP, Coconuts Bangkok
Photo: Morning News
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