BANGUI, Central African Republic - The interim president of the violence-wracked Central African Republic declared Monday that "the party is over" after weeks of deadly sectarian violence as deserting troops and police returned to duty. Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, speaker of the impoverished country's provisional parliament and interim president, vowed that the "anarchy" that has gripped the country would be swiftly brought to an end.
And he issued a stern warning to warring militiamen from the mostly Muslim Seleka group 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. Nguendet, whose parliament has been charged with finding a new transitional president within two weeks from Saturday, declared: "The chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over." Those who do not return to barracks "will be considered deserters and treated as such," he added.
The return of hundreds of soldiers and police to duty was an encouraging sign for the Central African Republic after weeks of horrific sectarian violence including reports of cannibalism. Sunday night was "particularly calm" with no reports of looting, according to residents contacted by AFP. The soldiers, many of whom had fled their units into the bush for fear of being killed, heeded a call from chief of staff General Ferdinand Bomboyeke to return to barracks by Monday. "They came in very large numbers and they're still coming," Colonel Desire Bakossa, who supervised the registration, told AFP.
"They answered the general's call. It's a relief. It's a very good sign."
Similar centres have opened in Bangui for police to register after many of them deserted too in the chronically unstable country.
Nguendet said the police, completely absent from the streets of Bangui in recent weeks, would be "redeployed within 72 hours and would take part in the disarmament process" under way in the city.
"I'm very happy to see again my brothers in arms," said adjutant Jacky-Morel Gbabja, who fled his unit in December to shelter with his family.
Nguendet's speech came the day after scenes of reconciliation in the southern Bangui neighbourhood of Bimbo as rival fighters struck a truce and embraced.
The interim president also went to the airport where some 100,000 people were sheltering to urge them to return home.
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, MISCA.
France has deployed 1,600 troops in the country to support MISCA, which is meant to have up to 6,000 troops but has not yet reached 3,500.
"It is a shame for the nation to see the security of the people of Central Africa entrusted to regional and international organisations," Nguendet said.
The provisional parliament was due to begin consultations on Tuesday with politicians and civil society members in a bid to elect a successor to former president Michel Djotodia, who resigned Saturday under international pressure.
Djotodia, the first Muslim leader in the majority-Christian nation, had come under fire for failing to rein in the rebels who brought him to power in March 2013 and whose abuses triggered retaliatory violence by Christian militias.
The new president will inherit a country in turmoil with a climate of sectarian hatred, nearly a million people displaced in a country of 4.6 million, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, a paralysed government administration and an economy in chaos.
He will have little time to perform miracles even if he benefits from the political, military and financial support of the international community; the timetable for the transition calls for general elections to be held no later than the first half of 2015.
But France, the former colonial power which is spearheading international efforts to end the crisis, wants elections to be held as early as the end of 2014.
According to political sources on the ground, there were likely to be around 10 candidates, with Nguendet himself possibly featuring as one of the favourites.
Pope Francis on Monday, speaking to the Vatican diplomatic corps, decried the "devastation and death" in the Central African Republic.