Somalia's transitional Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi hinted Tuesday that his government-in-exile might not meet a planned target date next week to begin relocating to the war-shattered nation.
Gedi, who last week had said the government would begin moving from Nairobi to the lawless Somali capital of Mogadishu on February 21, said it needed first to hear from three more cabinet-level fact-finding missions.
He said the new missions, which will come on top of two earlier visits to assess security in Mogadishu, would depart for Somalia on Wednesday but would not be able to prepare reports until later in the month.
"We will receive their findings and recommendations and before the end of this month we will start the process of relocation of the government," Gedi told reporters after meeting Kenyan Foreign Minister Ali Chirau Mwakwere.
But he did not repeat the February 21 target date.
The earlier missions - made up of Somali lawmakers and ministers - were greeted warmly in Mogadishu but security fears soared last week after the murder of a western journalist in the capital.
In addition, thousands of Somalis took to the streets of Mogadishu on Monday to protest at the composition of a planned African Union-authorized regional peacekeeping force intended to help the government establish itself.
The demonstration took place just hours before a 14-member African Union security assessment team arrived in Mogadishu on a 10-to-12 day visit to study logistics for the deployment.
Some 3,000 demonstrators expressed their adamant opposition to the inclusion of troops from Ethiopia, Djibouti, and, to a lesser degree, Kenya, in the force which initially is to be run by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an east African grouping.
Many Somalis accuse Ethiopia in particular of fomenting instability in their country and have demanded that any force exclude Ethiopian troops. Others, including some hardline Islamists, are opposed to any foreign troops.
Gedi, however, declined to comment on the controversy, noting that the transitional government had requested troops from the African Union and Arab League for support.
"We are not interested in reacting to allegations," he said. "My government has requested the African Union force and the League of Arab States and they have responded to our request to deploy forces for stabilisation and the peace support mission to Somalia."
In addition to the controversy over the force, Gedi has stressed that the speed with which the government moves to Somalia would depend heavily on outside assistance that to date has not been forthcoming.
The relocation plan includes an initial six-month budget of about 77.3 million dollars (59.5 million euros) for relocation and logistics, creating administrative offices, disarming and demobilizing militias and setting up a police force.
Of that, only about eight million dollars (6.1 million euros) had been contributed by donors as of February 9, according to the transitional government.
Somalia was plunged into chaos after the fall of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Gedi's transitional government was set up in October in a bid to restore a functioning central government in the war-wracked nation.
But the administration - including a president, government and parliament - have remained in exile in Kenya since for security reasons.