Ethiopians could scarcely believe their eyes. After two decades of proxy wars and military tensions across a tightly sealed border, their Prime Minister was suddenly being cheered by tens of thousands of ecstatic people in the streets of their former enemy, Eritrea.
The dramatic scenes on Sunday, broadcast live in both countries, were evidence of a historic rapprochement. It was the beginning of a peace summit that could bring huge benefits to the economy and security of one of Africa’s most war-ravaged regions, easing its refugee exodus and transforming the strategic map of the entire Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia’s young reformist leader, Abiy Ahmed, flew into the capital of Eritrea on Sunday morning for a visit that stunned people in the two countries. While the visit had been rumoured for weeks after lower-level meetings, it still astonished those who have endured nearly 20 years of cold war and conflict.
Mr. Abiy later announced that the former foes will normalize their relations, allowing visits and economic links for the first time since the 1990s.
Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa and an economic powerhouse, but Eritrea is one of the world’s most closed and militarized societies, often compared with North Korea. Thousands of its citizens, fleeing repression and military conscription, have made dangerous journeys across desert or water to seek haven abroad. The exodus has turned Eritrea into one of the major sources of refugees entering Europe and Israel.
About 80,000 people were killed in a border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the late 1990s. Since then, the two countries have had no diplomatic relations, no direct flights and not even any direct telephone connections.
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