Myanmar migrant workers deny murdering Brits at Thai resort

BANGKOK - Two Myanmar migrant workers on Monday pleaded not guilty to murdering a pair of British holidaymakers at a Thai diving resort, their lawyer told AFP.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun are on trial for 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.

"They both denied all charges," the head of their legal team, Nakhon Chomphuchat, told AFP after the first hearing in their trial at a court on nearby Koh Samui.

The pair face several charges including murder, rape and robbery, he added. Last week Nakhon said defence witnesses had refused to come forward because they were too scared to speak up on behalf of low-status migrant workers in a case which 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 including allowing reporters to trample over the crime scene.

On Saturday the victims' families said they had seen strong evidence against the suspects and expressed confidence in the case.

"There is a great deal of detail and vast areas of investigative work which has been shared with us," Witheridge's family said in a statement released through Britain's Foreign Office.

"We would like to stress that as a family we are confident in the work that has been carried out into these atrocious crimes."

Miller's family meanwhile urged restraint from rights groups and the media while the court case unfolds.

"The support for the Myanmar suspects has been strong and vocal, but please do not jump to conclusions until you have considered the evidence from both sides in full," Miller's family said in its statement.

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.