ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Eritrea's longtime president arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday for his first visit after 22 years in a surprising diplomatic thaw between his once-bitter rivals.

In Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, thousands were under strict security to greet President Isaias Afwerki, whose visit is the final step in ending the war.

New Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed broke the ice last month by fully endorsing a peace agreement that ended a two-year border dispute.

Mr. Abiy visited Eritrea last weekend for a conversation with Mr. Afwerki, and last week the East African neighbors declared that their state of war was over.

Eritrea will reopen its embassy in Addis Ababa, which has been closed since 1998, on Monday, Ahmed Shide, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government told reporters. He had previously said that the message would reopen on Sunday.

Some Ethiopians have compared the restoration of relations with Eritrea, one of the most closed countries in the world, to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Telephone connections are open, and Strangers in both countries have begun to randomly choose others across the border.

The first scheduled Ethiopian Airlines flights to Eritrea are due to start on Wednesday.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s, but a border war broke out between the nations and they became embroiled in fierce hostilities that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The international community has welcomed reunification as a welcome development in a critical and often fragile region in the Horn of Africa, near one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and opposite the Arabian Peninsula.

The old Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa has undergone a swift renovation and is due to open during the visit of Mr. Isaias. Mr. Isaias and Mr. Abiy are expected to attend a concert of about 25,000 people on Sunday, featuring local artists.

Some Ethiopians lining the streets to catch a glimpse of Mr. Isaias's car sound chanted songs criticizing the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front. For years, the front was the strongest political party in the Ethiopian ruling coalition and hostile to Eritrea.

That changed when Mr. Abiy came to power in April and started a breathtaking wave of reforms in the country, which has about 105 million inhabitants and is the second largest people in Africa.

The gesture of peace with Eritrea was the most surprising. Eritrea, a country of five million inhabitants on the Red Sea, has been ruled by Isaias since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after years of rebel warfare.

While the two countries maintain close cultural ties, the border war and Ethiopia's refusal to surrender disputed territories was used by 72-year-old Isaias to keep Eritrea in a state of military readiness, with a system of forced recruitment of thousands of Eritreans to Europe, Israel and elsewhere.

Observers are now speculating that the end of the fighting with Ethiopia will lead to Eritrea, which has long been criticized by human rights groups for opening and accepting new freedoms.

The business is another focus. Inland Ethiopia sought outlets for its fast-growing economy and has already signed agreements to use the port facilities of Eritrea.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.