ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A Muslim rebel leader in Central African Republic has declared an autonomous state in his northeastern stronghold after rejecting elections due this month that are aimed at ending a years of bloodshed, his spokesman said on Tuesday.
The impoverished nation has descended into chaos since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize in early 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.
A government minister said on Tuesday that early, partial results from a referendum held on Sunday and Monday indicated a victory for those in favour of a new constitution, an outcome that would pave the way for elections on Dec. 27.
From his headquarters in the town of Kaga-Bandoro, Noureddine Adam, head of Seleka’s FRPC faction, controls a swathe of territory in the northeast. His spokesman and chief lieutenant Maouloud Moussa said the Republic of Logone had been proclaimed there on Monday.
“What we want first of all is autonomy. Then we’ll look at how to move towards independence,” he said. “Muslims are marginalised ... The north has been abandoned by the central government. There are no roads, no hospitals, no schools.”
U.N. peacekeepers took down the rebel republic’s flag - horizontal yellow, green and black stripes with a white star - after it was raised over the northern town of N’Dele.
“We call upon the international community and the international forces present in Central African Republic to do everything possible to neutralise the capacity to do harm of these terrorists,” said government spokesman Dominique Said Panguindji.
Central African Republic hosts a 11,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission as well as a deployment of French soldiers, thought neither force has succeeded in ending the violence.
Panguindji called for Adam to be arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Court, which is investigating crimes committed during the years of violence.
Adam was second-in-command when Seleka seized Bangui in 2013 and served as security minister in the government formed by the rebels’ 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.
Central Africans went to the polls on Sunday to vote on a new constitution, a requirement for elections intended to restore democratic rule and help end the cycle of instability.
Adam had called for the referendum and elections to be cancelled, and campaigners including Human Rights Watch accused him of using intimidation to block voting in areas under his control.
Voting finally went ahead on Monday in Kaga-Bandoro under the protection of soldiers from the MINUSCA U.N. mission.
The referendum was also extended into Monday in several other areas, including in the capital Bangui’s PK5 Muslim enclave where U.N. forces intervene to fend off repeated attacks on voters by heavily armed fighters.
Walidou Modibo Bachir, the minister of territorial administration, told a news conference on Tuesday that turnout from the 16 percent of polling stations already counted was around 70 percent.
“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,” he said.
Additional reporting by Sebastien Lamba in Bangui; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Alison Williams