(Bloomberg) -- The oil-rich, semiautonomous region of Puntland said it will operate as a state that’s independent from Somalia until changes to the Somali constitution adopted on Saturday are approved via a popular referendum. 

The federal government in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, “illegally replaced” the constitution with a new one that has “ulterior motives,” Puntland’s Council of Ministers said. Its statement followed a meeting Sunday where it announced it plans to withdraw from the federation. 

“The Puntland government has withdrawn its recognition and confidence in the federal government institutions until such time as a comprehensive constitutional framework is negotiated and agreed upon by the Somali people, of which Puntland is a part of,” it said. 

Pending a referendum, Puntland “shall exercise powers of an independent state.”

Constitutional changes that federal lawmakers adopted Saturday include introducing direct presidential elections and allowing the president to appoint a prime minister without parliamentary approval, Reuters reported. 

Puntland’s government has consistently cautioned that, if enacted, the new federal constitution would “undermine the unity, state-building progress and solidarity of the Somali nation.” 

Somalia’s information ministry declined to comment. 

Puntland is a territory of about 4.9 million people in northeastern Somalia. In January, regional lawmakers reelected Said Abdullahi Deni as the area’s president for another five years.  

The rift between the federal government and Puntland threatens the core of the Somali federation, said Omar Mahmood, a researcher at International Crisis Group.

“It complicates Somalia’s state-building path further, which is already riven by numerous divides and raises serious questions as to the future of both Somalia and Puntland,” he said. “Without a resolution, it will be difficult for Somalia’s state-building to advance.”