What’s coming next in the Central African Republic?

On Sunday and Monday, voters in the Central African Republic, which has been in a state of civil war for the better part of three years, voted on a constitutional referendum intended to try to bring about an end to the fighting. Preliminary results suggest that the referendum passed overwhelmingly. There were a few outbreaks of violence that marred the vote on Sunday, particularly in a mostly Muslim part of CAR’s capital city, Bangui, so voting was extended into Monday, and that went peacefully. The new constitution, assuming it will be adopted, creates a second chamber in CAR’s parliament, creates new courts for trying major crimes, and it seeks to enshrine religious freedom into law. In a nation split by Muslim-Christian violence (which is not to say that the causes are purely religious), that last point seems pretty important.

The referendum vote was a good sign for anybody hoping to see CAR turn a corner. Then on Tuesday, this happened:

A Muslim rebel leader in the Central African Republic proclaimed an autonomous state in the country’s north Tuesday, just days after threatening violence against voters in a constitutional referendum meant to usher in stability.

The declaration by rebel leader Noureddine Adam comes only two weeks after Pope Francis visited the troubled nation of 4.8 million and called for reconciliation among its Muslim and Christian militias, which have been warring since Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the Christian president in 2013. The declaration calling the new territory the Republic of Logone was signed Monday.

Adam’s spokesperson argued that dividing the country was the only way to achieve peace, but it seems disingenuous for a guy who was “threatening violence against voters” a couple of days earlier to be suddenly interested in peace. And, if the final referendum results look anything like the preliminary ones (90% of voters supporting the referendum), then it seems pretty clear that the vast majority of CAR voters (turnout was said to be high) prefer to keep the country together under new management.

Conditions in CAR have improved somewhat since way back in January, the last time yours truly wrote about it (again, it’s just me around here), but that doesn’t mean things are good. There’s still been violence between the Muslim Séléka and the Christian anti-balaka militias, but the presence of MINUSCA, a joint African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force, has reduced the frequency and intensity of the fighting somewhat. MINUSCA’s work, however, has been marred by reports of child and teen sexual abuse by a group of mostly-French peacekeepers. The UN has been accused of failing to properly respond to the reports, possibly due to fundamental weaknesses in the rules governing UN peacekeeping missions.

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