Two women arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle over 11kg of cocaine out of Peru have been refused bail and could spend up to three years in prison awaiting trial.

Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, both 20, face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if convicted, the prosecutor's office in Callao, near Lima has said.

The pair were formally charged with the promotion of drug trafficking and were refused bail during a public court appearance tonight.

Ms McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Ms Reid, from Glasgow claim they were forced to carry the drugs, which were concealed in food packages, by an armed gang who threatened their family members.

But during the hearing, the judge reportedly asked the pair why they did not ask for help when they arrived at Lima airport, to which they replied they were threatened.

They have spent the last two weeks in custody over the drug trafficking allegations, but are expected to be transferred to prison to await their trial.

Ms McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden said they were effectively beginning a prison sentence.

"Their main concern at the minute is that they may be separated, sent to different prisons," he said.

"They are very concerned that might happen. They did not know each other before this started, they have now become best friends."

Mr Madden yesterday denied media reports that had emerged about his client's alleged involvement with drugs.

"Michaella McCollum did not owe any money to any drugs dealer, she was not and is not involved in the drugs trade, she has no criminal record, she has never been in trouble with the police in her life," he said.

"She was not seen on video carrying drugs, as was alleged in one newspaper, she was carrying a handbag, it was her handbag, it was pretty obvious it wasn't drugs, but that was the report.

"She was not out shopping in Lima and spending a lot of money, that didn't happen."

Mr Madden said the women had been kept in harsh conditions, but had been treated well.

"They are fairly tough conditions, there's not an awful lot to eat there, but she's been treated fairly well by the police and by the people in the police centre," he said.