ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The leaders of bitter opponents Ethiopia and Eritrea met on Sunday and hugged and smiled for the cameras in Eritrea's capital as the officials on both sides concluded a nearly 20-year military stalemate.
The meeting was the first of its kind between leaders of the two neighbors in the Horn of Africa and rivals since they led a war in the late 1990s, killing around 80,000 people.
"This historic official visit and the summit that is taking place usher in a new era of peace and cooperation," Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel wrote on Twitter.
"The yearning for peace was palpable (and) we will definitely move forward for the good of our people," wrote Abiys chief of staff on Twitter next to photos of cheering Eritreans s on the streets of Asmara, waving their own and Ethiopian flags.
The scenes were unimaginable before the last month when an unexpected approach began.
In early June, Ethiopia announced that it would comply with all the terms of a peace agreement. He suggested that the government be ready to settle a border dispute.
Eritrea responded positively and sent a delegation to Addis Ababa last month.
CHEAP REFORM AGENDA
Abiy, who took office in April, said during the meeting Ethiopian Airlines would resume flights to Eritrea for the first time since the war, as the nations sharing a common history, the diplomatic relations have broken off.
The 41-year-old leader is pushing other bold reforms to open Ethiopia out after decades of security-oriented isolation.
He pardoned dissidents, proclaimed a state of emergency, and pledged to partially privatize key state enterprises.
Across the border, Eritrea is one of the world's largest solos and repressive nations and has long used the Ethiopian threat to justify hefty military spending and the long-term conscription that has led hundreds of thousands of young men to flee to Europe.
Observers say Eritrea saw an opportunity in Abiya's reform agenda, largely because it is a strong departure from its arch rival Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan party that led the ruling EPRDF Coalition has dominated – and through the association of Ethiopia and its economy – since the early 1990s.
Abiy comes from the ethnic group of Oromo, the largest in Ethiopia, and led protests that led to his predecessor resigning in February.
The TPLF hardliners are against the far-reaching changes that it has
Two people were killed in a grenade blast at a massive rally by Abiy in Addis Ababa last month, with the finger of guilt aimed at those who opposed his Were reform ideas.
Beyond Officers' Tweets There were no official comments from both camps on the state broadcasters of the two nations.
On Sunday afternoon, both shots of the leaders who greeted the Eritreans and were surrounded by them.
(Writing by Maggi e Fick, edited by John Stonestreet)