VOA's Carol Van Dam contributed to this report.
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN -- South Sudanese President Salva Kiir held a prayer meeting Thursday at the presidential palace, where he insisted a unity government will be formed by November despite several unresolved issues.
"In November it is a must that the government shall be formed. If SPLM-IO does not want the formation of the government, the other parties that signed the peace agreement have to go ahead with SPLM and form the government," said Kiir.
Kiir also used the event to order soldiers and national security agents to stop carrying out armed robberies on Juba citizens.
"In recent days the situation in Juba is reverting to a situation that we don't want, because at night you sleep in your room, but you hear gunshots. Why are there shots at night? There are some people who want to eat what is not theirs. And people who go and shoot at night are the soldiers! These things must stop," he said.
Kiir told guests he deliberately leaves the bullet-ridden walls of the palace as is, saying the holes are symbolic of the untreated wounds of the South Sudanese people.
The holes were caused by gunfire during the July 2016 fighting between government troops and rebel leader Riek Machar's bodyguards.
About 1,000 people including government officials, judges, civil society activists and religious leaders took part in Thursday's prayer service.
Religious leader: We need more than prayers
Paulino Lokudu Loro, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba, welcomed the prayer service at the presidential palace but said the country's political leaders have held many prayers before. What the country needs, he said, is lasting peace.
"All of us have been praying for peace, the peace of South Sudan, the peace of our people. We have been praying from this country and we [those] involved all over the world pray for South Sudan," said Loro.
Loro said he's tired of hearing foreigners say South Sudanese know what is happening in their country is bad, but do nothing to end it. He said many people continue to suffer while leaders just talk politics and cheat one another.
Severia Achan, who took part in the reconciliation prayer, said prayers will help heal South Sudan.
"Without prayer, evil cannot go from here and then our children who are now on the street, no school for them, this prayer can help, God can hear our prayer. This prayer is important even for our president, it can help him, it can give him the strength to rule this country. Without payers, he cannot do this," he said.
In March 2017, the government organized a national day of prayer and fasting for peace under the theme, "Repentance and Forgiveness."
Last April, Kiir and Machar traveled to the Vatican at the invitation of Pope Francis to pray for peace in South Sudan and to commit to working together peacefully for the good of the country.
'Tangible results' needed
On Wednesday, David Shearer, special representative for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, told the United Nations Security Council in New York that while progress is being made in South Sudan, more must be done.
"The recent visit of Dr. Riek Machar to Juba at the invitation of President Salva Kiir was an important development. They recommitted to forming the transitional government, a positive step because it maintains the momentum of peace and bolsters confidence among South Sudanese," Shearer said.
But the UNMISS chief said the challenge is to show "tangible results."
The opposition and government have yet to agree on the number of states or unify their armed forces, as called for in the 2018 peace agreement to end South Sudan's civil war.