More than a dozen officials from the African Union, the Arab League, and the seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development arrived in Mogadishu to begin their assessment of Somalia's security situation.

The 10 to 12-day visit sets the stage for an IGAD peace support mission, under the auspices of the African Union, that will aim to provide a safe environment in Mogadishu and elsewhere so that the new government can relocate back to Somalia from its current base in Kenya.

As the group arrived, thousands of Somalis thronged the streets of Mogadishu, protesting the planned inclusion of troops from Ethiopia and Djibouti in the IGAD peace support mission.

"What they are likely to hear on this trip is, first, a reaction to all of the discussion about an IGAD mission and that, in no uncertain terms they're going to be told that a force that involves front-line troops is unacceptable. And that is not a new message - that message has been passed on two previous occasions," explains Matt Bryden, the Somali analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Ethiopia and Somali had waged a bitter war over the Ogaden region in the 1970s, which has strained relations between the two countries to this day.

The French news agency, AFP, reported that Ethiopia said it would be willing to send troops and other assistance to IGAD's Somalia mission.

Somali presidential spokesman Yusuf Baribari praised IGAD for coordinating the two-year peace process in Kenya that saw Somalia forming a new government, and said Ethiopia is welcome in Somalia.

"Ethiopia, it is a very important country for Somalia," he said. "It is the main country in the region, and we are looking forward to implement[ing] a political and economic integration in our sub-region."

In a report released last week, the International Crisis Group warned that, unless the AU peace support mission had the backing of all cabinet members and parliament, the mission could further destabilize the security situation.

Analyst Mr. Bryden said the AU peace support mission would most likely be a success if it does not include troops from Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Mr. Bryden urged the AU to stick to its original peace support mission plan, which was to support Somali-led cantonment and demobilization efforts, protect installations under the government's control, and train new Somali security forces.