December 8, 2014 / 7:03 AM / 4 years ago

Myanmar men plead not guilty to murder of British tourists

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Two Myanmar workers have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder over the killing of two British tourists in Thailand, their lawyer said on Monday, in a case that has hit tourism and attracted widespread criticism.

Pictures of killed British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge and a message of support to their friends and families are displayed during special prayers at Koh Tao island September 18, 2014. REUTERS/Sitthipong Charoenjai

The bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found on a beach on the southern Thai island of Koh Tao on Sept. 15. Police arrested Myanmar workers Zaw Lin and Win Phyo, both 21, in October, saying DNA taken from the pair matched samples found on the victims.

On Thursday, Thai prosecutors filed charges against the Myanmar men ranging from conspiracy to commit murder and rape to illegal entry. They were taken to court on the island of Samui on Monday to hear the charges.

“They pleaded not guilty to all the charges today,” Thanu Akekachote, a lawyer representing the pair, told Reuters. “It is my understanding that the court wants to speed this up given its impact on tourism and international relations.”

Tourism generates almost 10 percent of gross domestic product and Thailand was already struggling to recover from months of political upheaval that culminated in a May 22 coup, with the unrest keeping some visitors away.

Thailand is still under martial law, which was imposed two days before the coup.

Zaw Lin and Win Phyo initially confessed to the murders but later retracted their confessions, saying they had been made under duress.

The investigation into the murders has been marred by allegations of police incompetence and torture. The suspects said they were beaten and threatened by police, allegations which police deny.

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Paul Tait

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