BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The interim leader of Central African Republic vowed Monday that the era of anarchy in the tumultuous country was now over, a bold declaration made only days after the man who had seized power in a coup last year stepped down under international pressure.
Alexandre Ferdinand Nguendet heads the national council that will now select a new interim president for the country by the end of next week. The council is due to convene on Tuesday to begin the work of replacing Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who resigned on Friday.
Djotodia came under mounting international criticism after his government failed to stem unprecedented levels of violence between the country's Christian and Muslim communities. More than 1,000 people were killed in December alone, and the fighting prompted nearly 1 million people to flee their homes.
"The pillaging and the chaos are over," Nguendet told police officers on Monday, while encouraging them to retake their posts. "I'm calling for your help in re-establishing security across all of Central African Republic."
Babacar Gaye, the U.N. special representative to the Central African Republic, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York by videoconference from Bangui that the country is "at a critical stage."
"Today ... hope is within grasp, but not yet within our hands," he said.
Gaye said that hope lies in the reinforcement of the African force that is waiting for a contingent from Rwanda, in the continued operation of French forces, and on the election of a new president.
He said the U.N. is "confident" that a new head of state will be elected within 15 days as required, and possibly earlier. "And my hope is that the nomination of the prime minister and of the government will reinforce this hope," he said.
Gaye, a Senegalese general, said there are fewer killings in Bangui now than in the aftermath of the Dec. 5 attacks when 1,000 people were killed.
"But today people in Bangui can die because of their religious belief, because of their clothing style, or just because of their physical appearance," he said.
Last year's coup plunged the deeply impoverished country into a state of near-anarchy where the top rebel leaders who took over the government exerted little control over their fighters in the streets. Many of the security forces loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize fled, leaving the rebels in charge of Bangui.
A rapid intervention team made up of 400 officers was put in place Monday and will work alongside the French troops and African peacekeepers, he said.
However, the forces face an enormous task in securing a city where more than 500,000 people have fled their homes in fear, including 100,000 living in and around the airport guarded by French troops. While Djotodia's departure was met with jubilation in the streets, retaliatory violence continues.
Antoine Mbao-Bogo, president of the local Red Cross, said late Monday his organization had recorded 39 deaths and 27 injuries in Bangui since Friday, noting that most of the victims were civilians.
Central African Republic's woes began as a political crisis, but the conflict turned sectarian as resentment grew toward Djotodia's mostly Muslim fighters in this predominantly Christian country. As Djotodia's rule crumbled, Christian militias began hunting down and killing those they accused of collaborating with the Muslim fighters who had killed, raped and robbed civilians.
The country's national transitional council had rubber-stamped Djotodia's leadership last year after he seized power and now faces the task of choosing someone who can guide the country toward elections that are scheduled to be held before the end of the year.
Already, though, there are doubts about how that can take place, given that voter rolls and administrative buildings across the country were looted and destroyed during the rebellion.
Associated Press writers Krista Larson and Robbie Corey-Boulet in Dakar, Senegal, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.