BANGUI: Former rebel leader Michel Djotodia was sworn in as president of the Central African Republic on Sunday, five months after seizing power in the violence-wracked country.
The former French colony's sixth president is tasked with restoring security in the impoverished state and steering the nation through a transition period leading to fresh polls within 18 months.
Djotodia swore the oath of office on the Transition Charter, which has substituted for the constitution since the ouster of Francois Bozize, who himself came to power on the back of a military coup in 2003.
"I, Michel Djotodia Am Non Droko, swear before God and before the nation to scrupulously observe the Constitutional Transition Charter ... to preserve the peace, to consolidate national unity, to ensure the well-being of the Central African people, to conscientiously fulfil the duties of my mandate, with no ethnic, regional, religious or professional considerations," he said before members of the Constitutional Court.
Also in attendance was Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who served as the lead mediator in the Central African crisis.
After ousting Bozize from power, Djotodia's Seleka rebel alliance won de facto recognition from the international community and a shot at steering the nation through the transition period leading to fresh polls.
Five months on however, the picture is bleak, with reports of widespread rape, child soldier recruitment and weapons proliferation prompting UN chief Ban Ki-moon to say the country needed the world's "urgent attention".
Djotodia vowed to combat insecurity in an address marking the nation's 53rd anniversary of independence from France last Tuesday.
But a UN report said that Djotodia's Seleka fighters, many of whom have not been paid in months, were to blame for much of the chaos and that the group's hierarchy is doing little to stop them.
It listed "arbitrary arrests and detention, sexual violence against women and children, torture, rape, targeted killings, recruitment of child soldiers and attacks, committed by uncontrolled Seleka elements and unidentified armed groups throughout the country."
The International Federation for Human Rights said in July it had documented at least 400 murders by Seleka-affiliated groups since March. Bar a few arrests in Bangui, all those killings have gone unpunished.
A group of Bozize supporters calling themselves the Front for the Return of Constitutional Order in Central Africa dismissed the inauguration as a masquerade.
"This swearing in is illegitimate because Mr. Djotodia owes his position only to the force of Kalashnikovs and foreign mercenaries," it said in a statement.
The landlocked nation has 4.6 million inhabitants scattered over a territory larger than France, replete with untapped mineral wealth and bordering other chronically unstable countries such as DR Congo, Chad and South Sudan.
The relentless violence since the March coup has forced tens of thousands from their homes, with the UN refugee agency reporting on Tuesday that 4,000 have crossed into Chad over the past month alone.
The UNHCR said more than 60,000 Central Africans had fled their country and 200,000 been internally displaced since the crisis erupted in December 2012.
With thousands of families still living in the bush, afraid to return to their homes, Save the Children warned that children faced "the threat of sexual abuse, disease and recruitment into armed groups."
As his country descends into lawlessness, the ousted Bozize resurfaced in France and said earlier this month that he was ready to take power again "if the opportunity presents itself."