December 26, 2014 / 1:12 PM / 3 years ago

Lawyer confident of testimony to clear Myanmar duo of Britons' murders

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A lawyer for two Myanmar nationals indicted over the murder of two British tourists on a Thai holiday island said on Friday he was confident of persuading scared witnesses to testify and exonerate the accused.

May Thein, mother of Win Zaw Htun, one of two Myanmar workers suspected of killing British tourists in Thailand, shows her son's picture at a monastery outside Yangon October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A trial date was set on Friday for July 8 next year by a court on Koh Samui, the neighboring island to Koh Tao, where the bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found on a beach on Sept. 15.

Police arrested Myanmar workers Zaw Lin and Win Phyo, both 21, in October, saying their DNA samples matched those found on the victims.

After a pre-trial hearing on Friday, Nakorn Chompoochart, the head of suspects’ legal team, said there was more time to convince witnesses currently in Myanmar to appear at the trial.

A committee of investigators set up by Myanmar’s embassy in Bangkok last week said potential witnesses able to prove the suspects were innocent were too scared to appear in court for fear of retribution by Thai police or their former employers. [ID:nL3N0U234M]

“Now we have witnesses but the problem is they are scared. We might need more time and we might have to go to Myanmar to meet them,” Nakorn told reporters.

“I‘m confident because we have enough information to convince the court that the two did not commit the crime.”

The embassy’s investigators said they had interviewed about 40 Myanmar nationals who were working on Koh Tao, a tiny island and popular diving destination, at the time of the murders.

They said “strong witnesses” had returned to Myanmar because they were worried they would be implicated in the crime.

The murders dealt a blow to Thailand’s vital tourism industry, worth about 10 percent of its economy, when it was already hurting from a rash of cancellations due to months of unrest and a May 22 coup.

The military government pressed police to solve the case quickly. Zaw Lin and Win Phyo, who were migrant workers, initially confessed but later retracted their statements, saying they were given under duress.

Police deny that and say they have solid evidence.

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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