BANGUI (AFP) – The Central African Republic began the search for a new president Tuesday, as life showed tentative signs of returning to normal despite a “volatile” situation after weeks of brutal sectarian violence.
A special session of parliament convened to elect a new interim leader for the poor landlocked country of 4.6 million people that has been gripped by a terrifying spiral of violence including reports of cannibalism.
As the 135 members of the transitional ruling body (CNT) began their deliberations, police were patrolling the streets of the capital Bangui for the first time in weeks, in a fresh sign normality was returning.
The CNT has two weeks to pick a new interim leader after former president Michel Djotodia stepped down last week under international pressure.
Opening the session, Koyassoum Doumta, the CNT’s vice-president, called on the body to elect “someone who represents peace, national reconciliation and who will supervise future elections in a spirit of transparency.”
Djotodia, the first Muslim leader of the mainly Christian country, came under fire for failing to prevent inter-religious violence in the wake of a March coup that ousted president Francois Bozize.
He proved unable to control his mainly Muslim Seleka rebels who went on a spree of looting, killing and raping, sparking revenge attacks from Christian militias set up to defend against them.
However, in the wake of Djotodia’s resignation, there have been scenes of reconciliation between former enemies in some areas and deserting police and soldiers have begun to return to duty.
Monday night was quiet with no reports of looting, residents told AFP.
According to political sources, there are likely to be 10 or so candidates to fill the void left by Djotodia, including the current interim leader Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet.
However, whoever is elected interim president will not be able to stand for elections due to be held no later than the first half of 2015.
Ten months of violence have displaced a fifth of the country’s population and the sectarian flare-up has killed more than 1,000 people in the past month alone, despite a French military intervention and the presence of an African peacekeeping force.
On Monday, Nguendet vowed that the “anarchy” that has wracked the country would be swiftly brought to an end.
And he sternly admonished warring militiamen from the Seleka and the “anti-balaka” Christian fighters set up to oppose them.
“To the ex-Seleka, to the anti-balaka and the lovers of looting, I’m giving you a severe warning: The party is over,” he said at a police headquarters in the capital, Bangui.
“The chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over,” he said.
He also told the 100,000 or so petrified people huddled at the airport to go home and get on with their lives.
But there was “no large-scale return”, aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) said on Tuesday.
“People remain very cautious. They are aware that the situation is still volatile. There is no large-scale return at the moment,” an MSF official said.
The United Nations special representative in Bangui, Babacar Gaye, also sounded a note of caution amid the new mood of optimism.
“Hate is still there” between members of the rival communities, he warned.