Bangui: Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza urged fighters to put down their arms as she took the oath of office on Thursday, even as looters pillaged Muslim neighbourhoods and sectarian tensions escalated in the anarchic Central African Republic.
Samba-Panza, the nation`s first female leader, was sworn in at a ceremony days after being chosen by a national transitional council. The rebel leader behind the March 2013 coup stepped aside nearly two weeks ago under mounting international criticism of his inability to control his fighters and stem the violence.
In her inaugural address, Samba-Panza urged both the Muslim fighters behind the coup and the Christian militiamen who rose up in opposition to support peace.
"I strongly call on the fighters to show patriotism in putting down their weapons," she said. "The ongoing disorder in the country will no longer be tolerated."
Central African Republic has been wracked by sectarian violence for months, with more than 1,000 people killed in Bangui over the course of several days in December alone. Nearly one million people have fled their homes, with 100,000 of them living in and around the Bangui airport being guarded by French soldiers.
UN officials have warned that the crisis is at high risk of escalating into a genocide, driven by fighting between Christian and Muslim communities in the country with a history of coups and dictatorship.
Christian Bernis Latakpi, 24, a university student, said he hoped that Samba-Panza, who has been mayor of Bangui since June, would bring much-needed reconciliation after months of bloodshed.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Andrew Drake and Jerome Delay in Bangui, Central African Republic, contributed to this report.