After a 20-year long border dispute, the two leaders in the Horn of Africa have met in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. There are hopes this first step will develop a long-lasting good relationship.
The greeting between Ethiopia's newly elected reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and neighboring Eritrea's longtime President Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea's capital Asmara has been broadcast live in both countries. It is a scene that seemed improbable just a couple months ago.
Abiy's chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, posted photos of the leaders' meeting at the airport and said Abiy was "very warmly received" by the 72-year-old Afwerki who has ruled Eritrea since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a years-long rebel insurgency.
Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane G. Meskel tweeted photos of the leaders and the cheering crowds as the leaders made their way through the capital, Asmara, in a motorcade.
Meskel called the meeting a historic event.
Many in the crowds wore t-shirts with photos of the two leaders; and the streets were bedecked with flags.
Ending a feud
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is opening up Ethiopian society and trying to move his land-locked country past its long-running feud with its northern neighbor which borders the Red Sea.
The two sides fought a vicious border war from 1998-2000 that killed tens-of-thousands. Since then the two sides have remained at odds over the border. But the 42-year-old Abiy changed that by agreeing to finally accept the border outline shortly after taking office in April this year.
Abiy's chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, said on Twitter that the visit will "further deepen efforts to bring about lasting peace."
Direct international telephone connections were restored between the two countries for the first time after two decades, an Ethiopian official said on Sunday.
While some Ethiopians, particularly those along the border, still oppose the improving ties, many want peace.
In addition to burying past differences with Eritrea, Abiy has embarked on a series of domestic reforms, releasing journalists and opposition figures who have been imprisoned, opening up the state-run economy and unblocking hundreds of websites.
The reforms come after years of anti-government protests demanding more freedoms.
Eritrea's Afwerki noted the "positive signals" from Ethiopia shortly after Abiy took office and sent an official delegation -- the first in two decades -- to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to "gauge current developments directly and in depth," and to plan further steps if possible.
While Ethiopia is Africa's second most populous country, and has a rapidly growing economy, tiny Eritrea remains one of the world's most isolated nations.
Despite their rocky past the two countries share close cultural ties. Some hope that Abiy's reform movement will compel Afwerki to open-up Eritrean society.
bik/ls (AP, AFP, dpa)
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