ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A Muslim rebel leader in Central African Republic has declared an autonomous state in his stronghold and said he will seek independence, leading the country’s transitional government to call for international action against him.
Noureddine Adam, head of the Seleka rebels’ FPRC faction, made the proclamation from his headquarters in the town of Kaga-Bandoro on Monday after rejecting a national election due this month that is aimed at ending years of bloodshed.
It followed a referendum on Sunday on a new constitution, a requirement for the election. Polling was marred by violence between rival factions but a government minister said on Tuesday it appeared that voters had approved the proposed reforms.
Adam had called for the referendum and election to be cancelled and campaigners, including Human Rights Watch, accused him of using intimidation to block voting in areas under his control.
His chief lieutenant, Maouloud Moussa, said he had declared the Republic of Logone in his stronghold in the northeast.
“What we want first of all is autonomy. Then we’ll look at how to move towards independence,” Adam said. “Muslims are marginalised. The north has been abandoned by the central government.”
The transitional government, which is charged with leading the country of five million people to elections, immediately condemned the announcement and the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic threatened to use force against him.
“We call upon the international community and the international forces present in Central African Republic to do everything possible to neutralise the capacity of these terrorists to do harm,” government spokesman Dominique Said Panguindji said.
An 11,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission and about 900 French soldiers are stationed in Central African Republic, which has a history of coups and rule by strongmen.
U.N. peacekeepers on Tuesday took down the rebel republic’s flag - horizontal yellow, green and black stripes with a white star - after it was raised over the local gendarmerie in the northern town of N‘Dele.
“MINUSCA condemns the FPRC’s declaration on the autonomy of the northeast...and will use all means, including resorting to force, against any separatist attempt, in line with its mandate,” the mission, known by its acronym MINUSCA, said in a statement.
The nation has descended into renewed chaos since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking reprisal attacks by Christian anti-balaka militias.
Thousands have died and one in five Central Africans has been displaced by the violence as rival rebels and militia leaders have carved up territory in a de facto partition.
The country is rich in diamonds, uranium, gold, oil and other assets which are coveted by the rival factions as well as by foreign interests.
Adam was second-in-command when Seleka fighters seized the capital Bangui in 2013 and served as security minister in the government formed by rebel leader Michel Djotodia.
A subsequent transitional government issued a warrant for his arrest in 2014, accusing him of war crimes. He denies the allegations. He is on a U.N. sanctions list and is subject to an asset freeze and travel ban.
Panguindji, who is also justice minister, called for him to be arrested and handed over to the International Criminal Court.
A government minister said on Tuesday that early, partial results from a referendum that began on Sunday indicated a victory for those in favour of a new constitution, an outcome that would pave the way for elections on Dec. 27.
“The National Elections Agency has the mandate to deliver the definitive results of the referendum. But from everything we know at this point, the vote for ‘yes’ won,” Walidou Modibo Bachir, the minister of territorial administration, told a news conference
Voting was extended on Monday in some areas, including in Bangui’s PK5 Muslim enclave, where U.N. forces intervened to fend off repeated attacks on voters by heavily armed fighters.
French and U.N. troops protected polling stations as voting continued in Kaga-Bandoro and N‘Dele on Tuesday as well in Bossangoa, a hotbed of support for ex-president Bozize.
Additional reporting by Sebastien Lamba in Bangui; Writing by Joe Bavier, Editing by Angus MacSwan