Thousands cheer Ethiopian leader’s visit to former enemy Eritrea for unprecedented summit

Asmara, July 8, 2018 – Ethio­pian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived Sunday in Eritrea, once a bitter rival, for an unprecedented summit with its longtime leader, Isaias Afwerki.

State Eritrean television showed an Ethio­pian Airlines plane landing at the sparse airport in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, where a brass band was drawn up to greet the prime minister for the first such visit in two decades.

The two Horn of Africa neighbors have been sworn enemies for the past 20 years since fighting a brutal ground war from 1998 to 2000 that saw at least 70,000 killed. In the intervening years, the two sides have clashed repeatedly and supported rival rebel movements.

Abiy was hugged by Isaias himself at the airport, and they occasionally smiled and laughed together as they strode past the uniformed band and honor guard — a marked contrast to the Eritrean president’s normally stone-faced public appearances.

The two men were welcomed by rows of officials and women in traditional dress waving palm fronds before they retired to the airport VIP lounge, where they sat and sipped juice beneath portraits of themselves.

Before leaving the airport, Abiy waded into the crowd of welcoming women and exchanged hugs.

As the convoy of vehicles carrying Abiy passed through downtown Asmara, crowds lined the street and cheered loudly, spilling into the road and slowing the cars to a crawl.

The change in relations between the two countries has stunned observers. For the first time in decades, Ethio­pian flags adorned the streets of Asmara and other cities in preparation for Abiy’s visit, according to photos tweeted by Natalie Brown, the U.S. chief of mission in Asmara.

The rumored visit was confirmed by Abiy’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, on Sunday morning.

“Abiy Ahmed has left to Eritrea, Asmara today to further deepen efforts to bring about lasting peace between the people of Ethiopia & Eritrea,” he tweeted. “Our two nations share a history & bond like no other. We can now overcome two decades of mistrust and move in a new direction.”

Nearly 30 years ago, the future leaders of the two countries were comrades in the struggle against Ethiopia’s communist dictatorship. But after its overthrow and Eritrea’s declaration of independence, relations soured despite close cultural and linguistic ties.

Ethi­o­pia’s new reformist prime minister, Abiy, broke the deadlock between the two countries on June 5 by accepting the 2000 peace agreement that ended the war, which would involve ceding territory still held by Ethi­o­pia.

Events moved quickly after that, with Isaias accepting the overtures as a “positive” move and sending a delegation led by his foreign minister to Addis Ababa a week later. Now there has been talk of reopening long-closed air links between the two countries this year.

The summit will probably involve negotiations on how to begin the complex process of returning territories to each other and separating populations as well as restoring ties.

Under Abiy, Ethi­o­pia appears to be embarking on a new path of reform, but Eritrea has been characterized as one of the most authoritarian states in Africa.

For much of the past 20 years, Eritrea has been focused on its conflict with Ethi­o­pia, with substantial spending on its military and indefinite mandatory military service that has led hundreds of thousands of Eritreans to try to immigrate to Europe.

The meeting “heralds a new era of peace & cooperation,” Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Meskel tweeted Sunday.

In interviews broadcast live on Eritrean state television, people praised the visit and welcomed peace between the two countries.

“Peace is everything,” said an elderly man wearing a turban and sunglasses. (washingtonpost)

 Eritrea lines up Asmara streets with Ethiopian flags to welcome Ethiopia PM

Streets in the Eritrean capital Asmara have been lined with several banners welcoming the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who made a histo historic visit to that country’s capital, Asmara today.

The US Chief of Mission in Asmara, Natalie E. Brown tweeted pictures of several Ethiopian flags hoisted alongside Eritrean flags and banners reading ‘ Welcome Dear Brother Abiy Ahmed’ which she added were written in English, Amharic, Tigirinya and Oromiya.

Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia while Tigrigna is one of the languages spoken in Eritrea. Abiy who is Oromo is fluent in all four languages. Several other social media users posted pictures showing roads, junctions and other key landmarks in Asmara adorned by the Ethiopian and Eritrean flags.

Eritrea and Ethiopia broke off diplomatic relations two decades ago, although Asmara has a permanent delegation in Addis Ababa representing it at the African Union, whose headquarters are in the Ethiopian capital.

Before the June visit, no Eritrean representatives had been part of an official visit for talks with the Ethiopian government since at least 1998. (Afrikanews).

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