Sun | Jul 22, 2018

With hugs, leaders of rivals Ethiopia, Eritrea finally meet

Published:Monday | July 9, 2018 | 12:20 AM
In this grab taken from video provided by ERITV, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) and Erirea's President Isaias Afwerki observe the Guard or Honour during a welcome ceremony for Ahmed, in Asmara, Eritrea, Sunday, July 8. With laughter and hugs, the leaders of longtime rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea met for the first time in nearly two decades Sunday amid a rapid and dramatic diplomatic thaw aimed at ending one of Africa's longest-running conflicts. (ERITV via AP)

 

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP)

With laughter and hugs, the leaders of longtime adversaries Ethiopia and Eritrea met for the first time in nearly two decades Sunday amid a rapid and dramatic diplomatic thaw aimed at ending one of Africa's longest running conflicts.

Ethiopia's reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea's capital and a live broadcast by Eritrean state television showed President Isaias Afwerki greeting him at the airport in scenes unthinkable just months ago.

"A brotherly embrace," Eritrea's information minister said on Twitter, sharing photos.

Crowds danced and sang for the leaders, and Asmara's streets were hung with Ethiopian and Eritrean flags. Abiy and Afwerki travelled across the capital in a large motorcade as people wearing T-shirts with the images of the leaders cheered. The leaders then met one-on-one, with a smiling Abiy leaning toward Afwerki under a wall hung with their portraits.

Also Sunday, telephone connections were established between the neighbouring Horn of Africa countries.

"For the first time after two decades, a direct international telephone connection between Ethiopia and Eritrea is restored today," tweeted Fitsum Arega, the chief of staff for Ethiopia's prime minister.

The visit of Ethiopia's prime minister to Asmara comes a month after Abiy surprised people by fully accepting a peace deal that ended a two-year border war between the two East African nations that killed tens of thousands. Ethiopia and Eritrea have not had diplomatic ties since the war began in 1998, with Abiy himself fighting in a town that remains contested today, and the countries have skirmished since then.

Ethiopians expressed a welcome shock at the meeting, which was shown live by Ethiopia's state TV.

While Ethiopia is Africa's second most populous nation, with more than 100 million people, and one of the world's fastest-growing economies, tiny Eritrea, with five million people, is one of the world's most closed-off nations, ruled by Afwerki since gaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after years of rebel warfare. But the two countries share close cultural ties.