A rebel leader has declared an autonomous state in Central African Republic (CAR) ahead of the national 27 December polls to elect a new president and parliament, restoring democratic rule in the wake of two successive transitional governments.

The former French colony descended into chaos when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the government of then-President Francois Bozizé in March 2013. Following the coup, the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia organised to fight against the Seleka and carried out large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians.

The upcoming December poll follows heavy fighting, grenade explosions and intimidation by armed groups that prevented many from voting on the first day of a constitutional referendum on Sunday 13 December. The polls are seen as a crucial step toward ending nearly three years of violence in which roughly one-in-five Central Africans have been displaced.

Noureddine Adam's 'autonomous' state

On Tuesday (15 December), Noureddine Adam, the current leader of the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) − one of the four Seleka factions − rejected the weekend's elections and declared an autonomous state in his northeastern stronghold, a rebel spokesman said.

Adam, the number two of the Seleka who once was a security minister under Michel Djotodia, who stepped down as president in January 2014, returned to CAR in October after having spent little under a year abroad in Kenya, Chad and Sudan.

"The Republic of Logone was proclaimed on 14 December in (the town of) Kaga-Bandoro (located 245km north of the capital, Bangui)," Maouloud Moussa, Adam's spokesman and chief lieutenant, told Reuters.

"What we want first of all is autonomy. Then we'll look at how to move towards independence."

Pope Francis made his first pontifical visit to an active war zone when visited the CAR on 29-30 November. During his trip, he visited a refugee camp and met representatives of the Muslim community in the capital, Bangui.