Myanmar migrants retract confessions to murder of 2 Britons, allege Thai police torture

This handout picture taken and released by the Thai police on Oct 3, 2014, on the southern Thai resort island of Koh Tao shows two men (centre and second right, wearing helmets and bullet-proof jackets) accused of killing two British tourists on the
This handout picture taken and released by the Thai police on Oct 3, 2014, on the southern Thai resort island of Koh Tao shows two men (centre and second right, wearing helmets and bullet-proof jackets) accused of killing two British tourists on the island last month as they re-enact the crime scene for investigators.  -- PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Two Myanmar migrant workers accused of murdering a pair of British tourists on a Thai island have retracted their confessions and alleged they were tortured, lawyers said on Wednesday.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were charged with the murder of Mr David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Ms Hannah Witheridge, 23, after the tourists' battered bodies were found on the island of Koh Tao last month.

The retractions are the latest blow for the Thai police, who have come under widespread criticism for bungling the murder investigation amid accusations the migrants were being framed for the brutal crime.

"The suspects said they did not kill them, they were not involved in the incident, and they were physically abused," Mr Surapong Kongchantuk, the lead lawyer for the pair, told AFP.

Thai authorities have strongly denied using the pair as scapegoats, insisting the case is built on solid evidence showing the DNA of the accused matches samples taken from Witheridge's body.

On Wednesday, prosecutors confirmed they had received a letter from the defence team in which the pair withdrew their confessions and laid out allegations of torture.

"It doesn't matter if they confessed or denied it because the court will consider evidence from forensic tests," said prosecution lawyer Paiboon Archavanuntakun.

The murders on the normally tranquil island rocked the small community and marked a new setback for Thailand's image as a holiday haven after months of protests in Bangkok led to a coup and the imposition of martial law in May.

Last week the Thai authorities agreed to allow British police to observe the investigation after Britain expressed concerns and offered to help with the probe.

The parents of the migrant workers were expected to travel to Koh Samui prison on Wednesday to visit their detained sons, Mr Surapong said.