ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – With laughter and hugs, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea met on Sunday for the first time in nearly two decades amid a swift and dramatic diplomatic thaw.
Ethiopia's reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea's capital Asmara. A live broadcast of Eritrean's state television showed that he was greeted at the airport by President Isaias Afwerki – a scene that was unthinkable a few months ago.
In the late 1990s, the two countries waged a war in which some 80,000 people died
The men later met one on one, with a smiling Mr. Abiy leaning on Mr. Afwerki (19659006) The visit comes a month after Mr. Abiy surprised the people by signing a peace treaty of 2000 , which ended a two-year border war between the two countries, completely accepted.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have had no diplomatic relations since the beginning of the war in 1998, as Mr. Abiy himself fought in a city that is still in dispute. The countries have since fought in one of Africa's longest-running conflicts.
Mr. Abiys chief of staff Fitsum Arega said on Twitter that the visit should "deepen the efforts for a lasting peace". He shared photos of the leaders' meeting and said that Mr. Abiy, 41, was "Warmly Received" by Mr. Afwerki, 72.
"Our two nations share a story and a band like no other," he said , "We can now overcome two decades of mistrust and go in a new direction."
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry described the visit as "part of the effort to normalize relations with Eritrea" and said that Abiy led Eritrea's leadership on "How to Repair Fences."
Estifanos Afeworki, Ambassador of Eritrea in Japan, said on Twitter that "no leader was received as warmly as today in Asmara in the history of Eritrea."
The Ethiopian people expressed their delight at the meeting, which was broadcast live by Ethiopia's state broadcaster.
"Historically … the beginning of the end, the glass ceiling is broken," wrote a resident, Shewit Wudassie, on Facebook. Another Facebook user, Djphat Su, wrote: "Do I dream or what?"
The decision to fully accept the peace treaty was the biggest and most surprising change that the Ethiopian Prime Minister had already announced in April, a wave of reforms, the release of journalists and opposition prisoners, the opening up of the state economy and the Releasing hundreds of websites after years of anti-government demonstrations calling for more freedom.
Days after the announcement, Eritrea's leader noted "positive signals" from Ethiopia and sent the first official delegation in two decades to "judge current developments directly and in depth" to plan future steps. Ethiopia used the visit to announce that Ethiopian Airlines would soon be taking flights to Eritrea.
While Ethiopia is Africa's second largest nation and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Eritrea is one of the most closed nations in the world. Mr. Afweki ruled since 1993 after years of rebel wars independence from Ethiopia. But the two countries share close cultural ties.
Eritrea has become a major source of migrants fleeing to Europe, Israel and other African countries in recent years as human rights groups have criticized their hard draft laws
diplomatic thaw has asked if peace with Ethiopia will bring Eritrea to it would loosen up and drop his long defensive stance.