The United Nations urged the Central African Republic to hold a peaceful constitutional referendum, calling it an important step to overcoming violence pitting Christian militias against Muslim rebels for more than two years.

The referendum on Sunday will pave the way for presidential and legislative elections on Dec. 27 and for the donor-backed transitional government to transfer power by the end of March.

"This is the time for the people of CAR to take their future into their own hands," UN Special Representative to the Central African Republic, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, said in an e-mailed statement on Friday. The polls were delayed several times amid the turmoil.

Pope Francis last month visited the country, traveling to a camp for displaced people and delivering a speech in which he called for unity and forgiveness. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1 million people have fled their homes because of the violence in the diamond-producing nation.

The fighting began in March 2013 when mainly Muslim rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize. The takeover was marked by the widespread killing of civilians, prompting Christians to set up a rival militia known as anti-balaka.

The UN has contributed 100 metric tons of electoral materials across the country, it said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE