BANGUI Former rebel leader Michel Djotodia was formally sworn in as the Central African Republic's president on Sunday, starting the clock on his interim administration's 18-month deadline to restore order and organise elections.
Djotodia has been in charge of the country during the chaos that followed the rebels' seizure of control in March, when they swept into power from their northern bases, overpowering South African forces protecting former leader Francois Bozize.
But Sunday's ceremony, attended by regional decision-makers like Chad's President Idriss Deby and Congo Republic's President Denis Sassou Nguesso, marked the official transfer of power.
"Today's swearing in is an important stage in the future of the Central African Republic and I hope I am the last of my countrymen to have to take up arms in order to come to power," Djotodia said in a speech during the ceremony.
Djotodia's rebel coalition, which is known as Seleka, had complained that the north was marginalized under Bozize, who himself seized power in a 2003 coup.
Bozize's ouster was the latest in a string of violent power changes in the land-locked nation since independence from France in 1960.
CAR is rich in diamonds, gold and uranium but is surrounded by conflict-ridden neighbours and has never enjoyed stability.
Djotodia called on politicians to observe a truce so that he could organise elections within 18 months.
However, Bozize said earlier this month while visiting France that he wanted to return to power. His comments came as Seleka faced increasing accusations of widespread human rights abuses.
U.N. officials have warned that CAR is on the brink of collapse and the top U.N. envoy for the country called on the Security Council to back an expanded African Union peacekeeping force in the country.
Djotodia confirmed to Reuters after his swearing in that he would not stand for elections at the end of the transition.
"I will do everything to ensure I come out of this transition praised and with my head held high," he said.
(Reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Jon Boyle)