BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Seleka rebels have demanded that Central African Republic be partitioned into a Muslim north and a Christian south, a surprise move at talks aimed at halting religious violence, sources at the meeting said on Tuesday.
Seleka's head of delegation to the three-day forum in Brazzaville, General Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane, told a session it was time to formalize the split after tens of thousands of Muslims had fled the south.
The talks, bringing together 169 delegates from the transitional government, civil society and armed groups, are aimed at reaching a ceasefire and disarmament of the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels and 'anti-balaka' Christian militia.
Thousands have been killed and more than a million forced from their homes by months of sectarian violence in the country which erupted after Seleka fighters seized power in the majority Christian country in March 2013.
After a 10-month rule marked by looting, torture and murder, Seleka leader and interim president Michel Djotodia stepped down under international pressure.
The Christian militias stepped up revenge attacks on Muslims, driving the rebels along with Muslim civilians northwards, creating a de facto partition.
Abakar Sabone, a Muslim former minister and leader of the MLCJ movement who was in the meeting, said the Seleka were demanding as a precondition to continue talks that the country should be split in two.
"They (Seleka), represent the Muslim community in the north. The partition is already effective because all Muslims are now in the north and the current government has no access to the north," Sabone said. "Seleka are voicing what that community in the north wants," he added.
The partition calls came as a surprise to mediators including Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou N'Guesso, who was chairing the session.
N'Guesso threw down his pen in exasperation and leaned back after the partition demand was made, another witness of the session, told Reuters, requesting anonymity.
Seleka officials, Central African Republic interim government authorities and mediators, were not immediately available to comment on the Seleka demands.
By late afternoon on Tuesday, the Seleka delegation had not shown up at the convention center where the talks were taking place.
Jean Marie Michel Mokoko, the head of the African Union peacekeeping force in Central African Republic, told Reuters that partition was not up for discussion at the moment.
"Only the future of the talks will us if this idea of the partition of the country is a real wish. Whatever the case, at the moment, we are not interested in that aspect," Mokoko said.
Reporting by Christian Elion; Writing by Bate Felix, Editing by Angus MacSwan