BANGKOK - Two Myanmar migrant workers accused of murdering a pair of British holidaymakers at a Thai diving resort will be held in custody until their full trial begins in July next year, their lawyer said Friday.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun have pleaded not guilty to the murder of 24-year-old David Miller and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the island of Koh Tao in September.
The accused, who have been in custody on nearby Koh Samui since October, face several charges including murder, rape and robbery.
If found guilty they could face the death penalty, in a case that cast a pall over Thailand's tourist industry.
Their trial will begin on July 8, the head of their legal team Nakhon Chomphuchat told AFP, anticipating a three-month trial.
"There are more than 50 witnesses on the plaintiff's side and more than 30 witnesses on the side of the defendants," he added, after the end of initial proceedings at the Koh Samui court on Friday.
Migrant rights' activist Andy Hall, who is supporting the pair's defence team, lamented the long wait in custody.
"The guys (the accused) say they will stay strong, but it's such a long time to wait," he said, adding that at the same time it "does give the defence time to consolidate its witnesses".
The defence initially struggled to get witnesses to come forward, saying people on the tiny island of Koh Tao are too scared to speak up on behalf of low-status migrant workers in a case that has garnered global attention.
The defendants, both aged 21, confessed to the crimes after their arrest in October but later retracted the admission of guilt, alleging it had been extracted under duress.
Rights groups have accused Thai authorities of using the men as scapegoats.
In November British detectives travelled to Thailand to review the police investigation into the murders after widespread criticism of blunders that included allowing reporters to trample over the crime scene.
The victims' families have said they have seen strong evidence against the suspects and expressed confidence in the case.
The brutal murders further damaged Thailand's image as a tourist haven after months of political protests led to an army coup in May and the imposition of martial law.