Cambodia's genocide tribunal rejected an appeal on Thursday by a former Khmer Rouge leader against his pre-trial detention on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A five judge panel at the tribunal ruled that Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's former ideologist, must remain in custody ahead of trials scheduled to begin later this year.
Nuon Chea faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has been detained since Sept. 19 by Cambodia's U.N.-backed court.
Nuon Chea is one of five former Khmer Rouge leaders detained for their involvement in the group's brutal 1975-79 rule. The Khmer Rouge's radical policies caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, diseases, overwork and execution.
Nuon Chea, 81, has denied any guilt, saying he is not a "cruel" man.
In their detention order last year, the tribunal's investigating judges charged him with involvement in crimes including "murder, torture, imprisonment, persecution, extermination, deportation, forcible transfer, enslavement and other inhumane acts." They said Nuon Chea faces life imprisonment if convicted and that the detention was necessary to prevent him from pressuring witnesses, destroying evidence and escaping.
Nuon Chea's own safety could also be at risk, if he were released, they said.
Nuon Chea has argued that the judges did not have sufficient grounds to detain him and called himself "a patriot and not a coward" trying to run away.
At the end of a hearing last month, he called on the pre-trial chamber's judges to use their "pure conscience and wisdom" in deciding on his appeal.
In December, the judges ruled against a similar appeal by Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who headed the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison and torture center.
The other three defendants are Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, his wife Ieng Thirith, who was the minister for social affairs, and Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state.