Ethiopia and Eritrea have declared the “state of war” between them over, bringing an end to one of Africa’s longest-running and most intractable military stand-offs.
Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made the trip to meet with his Eritrean counterpart President Isaias Afwerki on Sunday. It was the first time the neighbours’ heads of state had met for nearly two decades.
Pope Francis hailed the new initiative as a “light of hope for these two countries of the Horn of Africa and for the entire African continent”.
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Under a peace accord signed by the two leaders, both countries have agreed to open embassies, develop ports and resume flights and phone connections, “concrete signs of a stunning rapprochement that has swept away two decades of hostility in a matter of weeks”, says Reuters.
The countries have been in a state of “no war, no peace” since 2000, when a peace deal ended a brutal conflict in which 80,000 people are believed to have been killed.
A UN border commission set up under the peace agreement ruled that the town of Badme, the flashpoint for the conflict, was part of Eritrea, but Ethiopia refused to accept this and so normal relations were never resumed.
“The rivalry affected the whole region with each country normally taking opposite positions whatever the question,” the BBC says.
They took rival sides in Somalia's long conflict: Eritrea was accused of backing Islamist groups, while Ethiopia, a US ally, supported the internationally recognised government.
The peace deal marks a personal triumph for the 41-year-old Abiy, who swept to power in April promising a wave of reform in one of Africa’s most populous nations.
Since then he has ended a state of emergency, freed political prisoners and announced plans to partially open up the economy to foreign investors. This has led to comparisons with the 1980s-era Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War.
But in what Reuters describes as “his boldest move”, Abiy offered last month to make peace with Eritrea, 20 years after the neighbours started a border war that killed tens of thousands of people and destabilised the region for two decades.
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