ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s prime minister greeted an Eritrean delegation on Tuesday at the start of the first high-level visit in nearly two decades that has raised hopes of ending one of Africa’s most intractable military stand-offs.
Olympic athletes, singers, actors and religious leaders were also at the airport where Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and other top officials were presented with garlands of flowers. The flags of both countries fluttered from lampposts in Addis Ababa along with a banner reading “Welcome!”
Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 following a three-decade liberation war but conflict erupted between them once again in 1998 over their disputed border, with diplomatic relations broken off ever since.
Tuesday’s visit comes after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said this month he would honour all the terms of a peace deal, suggesting he might be ready to settle the border dispute.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki welcomed Ethiopia’s “positive messages” and decided to send the delegation that includes his adviser Yemane Gebreab and his envoy to the African Union, according to a Reuters witness who saw them arrive at Bole Airport.
Abiy’s chief of staff tweeted that the prime minister “hopes the visit will lay the foundation for a much brighter future for #Ethiopia #Eritrea.”
The border war killed some 80,000 people and the sides remain at odds over the status of the frontier town of Badme. The border remains militarised.
Abiy was at a rally hit by a grenade that killed two people on Saturday an attack that government-affiliated media blamed on opponents of reforms announced since he took office in April, including airline and telecoms privatisations and the rapprochement with Eritrea.
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.
No Eritrean representatives have been part of an official visit for talks with the Ethiopian government since at least 1998.