JUBA— Thousands of young people in South Sudan took part in rallies organized by the government Monday, calling for peace in the young country and accusing the United Nations of colluding with anti-government forces.
As a police band led hundreds of demonstrators through the streets of Juba, 22-year-old Lemi Samuel said he had come to the rally to show his support for President Salva Kiir.
“Coming here means we want to show the world that there is no president who is elected democratically that can be withdrawn just like that," Samuel told VOA.
Vice President James Wani Igga told the crowd that South Sudan has rejected calls made at peace talks in Addis Ababa for Kiir to step down and the government to be dissolved, and for South Sudan to come under U.N. protection.
“This is just nonsense that we rejected," he said.
"The other suggestion was even worse, which is to consider South Sudan as a U.N. protectorate. They want us to become a U.N. colony.... If they want to force us to be colonized again, I swear to God even an old man like me will return to the bush as a rebel,” he said.
Some of demonstrators carried signs accusing the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) of arming anti-government forces.
The accusations came after South Sudanese officials last week intercepted a U.N. convoy carrying weapons by road from Juba to Bentiu, in violation of a U.N. rule that stipulates arms should be transported by air only in the country for security reasons.
The weapons were in a shipment of "general goods" in which "several containers were wrongly labeled and inadvertently contained weapons and ammunition. This is regrettable," UNMISS said in a statement, apologizing for the mistake.
At another rally In Wau, in Western Bahr el Ghazal, economics student Mawien Ayom led demonstrators as they marched from the university to the U.N. compound to hand over a letter protesting the U.N. presence in South Sudan.
Awien accused UNMISS of helping to plan the events of Dec. 15 in Juba, which triggered months of violence in South Sudan, and of pushing Kiir's former deputy and now arch-rival Riek Machar to rise up against him.
"There is no doubt that UNMISS has changed from its mandate as a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan to a war-and-worse instigating mission in South Sudan,” he said.
UN Sector Coordinator Winny Babahuga accepted the letter on behalf of UNMISS and told the crowd that their memorandum would be sent to U.N. headquarters in New York, where it would be seen by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
A spokesman for Ban, Stephane Dujarric, said late Monday a delegation from U.N. headquarters will travel to South Sudan this week to join government and UNMISS officials in Rumbek, where the weapons were discovered, to conduct a probe into the "circumstances behind this incident."
"In the meantime, the Mission says that it is important to wait for the facts to come out and respect all provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the UN and the Government of South Sudan," Dujarric said.
Michael Atit contributed to this story from Wau, Margaret Besheer contributed from New York