BANGKOK - Thai police Tuesday searched for the killers of two British tourists found naked and beaten to death on the southern resort island of Koh Tao, as their bodies were due to arrive in Bangkok for forensic tests.
David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found dead early Monday with head wounds near a beachside bungalow on the island, a diving hot-spot near Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand.
An island-wide search for suspects was under way with police deployed at Koh Tao's main pier.
"There are three possible suspects," southern regional police commander Panya Maman told AFP, without confirming their nationalities.
UK media reports said police were seeking a British man who had been travelling with Miller in connection with the killings.
"We have set up a coordination centre which is responsible for the investigation and mobilised both Koh Tao and Koh Phangan residents to help police," Panya said.
The bodies of the victims are due to arrive in Bangkok later Tuesday for forensic tests, said local police official Jakkrapan Kaewkhao.
The Britons, who arrived in Thailand on August 25, had been seen partying at a local bar just hours before their deaths, according to police.
Their bodies were found at around 6:30 am Monday with a bloodied hoe discovered 35 metres (yards) from the murder scene, Jakkrapan told AFP.
Koh Tao, home to stunning white sand beaches and azure waters, is popular with divers but is smaller and more laid-back than neighbouring Koh Phangan - which draws hordes of backpackers to its hedonistic "full moon" party.
The murders are likely to heap more misery on Thailand's lucrative tourism industry, which has been battered in recent months after a prolonged political crisis ended in a coup.
The army swiftly blanketed the country with a curfew and strict martial law, frightening off visitors.
Although the curfew was soon lifted from key tourist hotspots, visitor numbers have yet to rebound and martial law remains in place.
Military leaders have vowed to restore the nation's reputation as the "Land of Smiles" with a clean-up targeting tourist resorts after a series of complaints about scams, assaults and even police extortion.
Britain says Thailand is the country where its citizens are second most likely to require consular assistance if they visit, behind the Philippines.
There were 389 deaths of British nationals in Thailand in the year to March 2013 - about one for every 2,400 British visitors or residents - although that figure includes natural causes.
But it is rare for tourists to be murdered in Thailand, although it is not uncommon for a visitor to die in an accident.
In July last year a 51-year-old American tourist was stabbed to death after an apparent row in a bar in Krabi, another popular tourist haven.
His death came just weeks after another American was slashed to death by a taxi driver in Bangkok after an apparent argument over the fare.