Thai police charge men with murder, rape of Brit tourists

Workers from Myanmar, Saw, left, and Win, sit together, escorted by a Thai police officer, during a press conference in Koh Tao island, Surat Thani province. Thailand, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. Thai police have arrested the two Myanmar workers they say confessed to killing a pair of British tourists on a beach in the southern Thailand last month. (AP Photo) THAILAND OUT

By Anusak Konglang ,AFP

BANGKOK — Thai police Friday charged two Myanmar men with murder and rape after the killing of two British tourists on a southern island last month, in a case that has severely dented the kingdom’s image as a holiday haven. The charges come after police said the undocumented migrant workers had confessed to murdering David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, whose battered bodies were found on Koh Tao on Sept. 15. The men have been charged with the murder of both Britons — a charge that carries the death penalty — and the rape of Witheridge, with police saying that their DNA matched samples taken from her body.

“The two Myanmar nationals are charged with murder (of both tourists), gang rape (of Witheridge) and stealing,” Prachum Ruangthong, police chief of neighboring Koh Phangan island, told AFP.

The breakthrough follows intense scrutiny of Thai authorities, which had been accused — in criticism led by the British media — of bungling the investigation in the days after the crime. Earlier Friday police said the men — identified only as Win, 21, and Saw, 23, from Rakhine state in Myanmar — had admitted to killing the Britons and raping Witheridge. “Two Myanmar suspects have confessed to killing the pair,” Thai national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told AFP. “DNA test results (from the two men) confirmed that the same DNA was found in the body of the (female) victim.” The accused were among three nationals from Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — held since Thursday on suspicion of involvement in the crime. The third Myanmar man is believed to be a witness and is currently under police protection on Koh Tao, provincial police chief Kiattipong Khaosamang told AFP. Earlier Friday investigators took the arrested men to the island to re-enact the crime scene, a common practice in Thai murder cases. Hundreds of onlookers watched as the handcuffed pair — wearing bullet-proof vests and white helmets — walked along the beach where the Britons were found dead, surrounded by scores of police officers. “Both men raped the female victim,” Kiattipong said earlier, adding the tourists were killed with a wooden stick and a garden hoe, which was found bloodied at the scene. Thai authorities dismissed concerns that they had arrested scapegoats when questioned by reporters. “Please be reassured that police have worked to their best ability so it’s not possible that they have arrested scapegoats,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said Friday.