President Paul Kagame has commended the historic meeting between the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia in Asmara, describing it as the right thing for the people of the two neighbouring countries.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived at Asmara International Airport on Sunday, for a meeting with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki a moment many political commentators termed as “historic”.
It has been close to two decades since leaders of the two neighbouring countries have met.
Prime Minister Abiy’s arrival in Asmara took the city by storm with thousands lining up on the streets to welcome the leader for the talks with his host.
Kagame, who is the current Chairperson of the African Union Summit, welcomed the meeting.
“We salute the leaders; PM of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea for their courage and doing the right thing for their people of the two countries! We congratulate you and are with you....!” Kagame tweeted.
We salute the leaders ,PM of Ethiopia Dr.Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea for their courage and doing the right thing for their people of the two countries !
We congratulate you and are with you....! pic.twitter.com/iPLSs1AxHk
— Paul Kagame (@PaulKagame) July 8, 2018
The meeting was the first of its kind between leaders of the two Horn of Africa neighbors since their war 1998-2000 war in which around 80,000 people died on both sides.
Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia amicably in 1993 but the two countries swiftly became bitter enemies.
Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki welcomed Abiy at Asmara’s airport on Sunday morning before they departed for the State House for talks that lasted all day.
Images of both men hugging took the continent by the storm, trending all day on social networks.
The two embraced again at the state dinner, hosted by Afwerki and broadcast on both countries’ state television.
"The tumultuous welcome accorded to Prime Minister Abiy underscores how much the people of Eritrea cherish peace...plaudits for Dr. Abiy for the bold political choice he has taken that will recoup lost time and opportunity in the past 20 years,” the hosting Head of State is quoted as having said.
President Isaias: "the tumultuous welcome accorded to Prime Minister Abiy underscores how much the people of Eritrea cherish peace...Plaudits for Dr. Abiy for the bold political choice he has taken that will recoup lost time and opportunity in the past 20 years.. We are with you" pic.twitter.com/8GptZKsfQs
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) July 9, 2018
Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane G. Meskel tweeted; “this historic official visit ... heralds a new era of peace and cooperation. The summit would, set the tone for rapid, positive changes on the basis of respect of sovereignty & territorial integrity, equality and mutual interest of both countries,” he wrote.
“The yearning for peace was palpable (and) we’ll decidedly move forward for the good of our people,” Abiy’s chief of staff wrote on Twitter, alongside photos of cheering Eritreans on the streets of Asmara waving their own and Ethiopia’s flags.
A direct international telephone connection between the two countries was restored “for the first time after two decades”, he wrote.
However, the sides did not make clear whether the most immediate issue — Abiy’s pledge to finally implement all terms of a 2000 peace deal with Eritrea — had been addressed.
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) July 8, 2018
In early June, Ethiopia announced it would honor all the terms of the 2000 peace deal, suggesting it might be ready to settle the border dispute.
Eritrea responded positively, sending a delegation to Addis Ababa last month for a meeting at which Abiy announced that Ethiopian Airlines would resume flights to Eritrea.
Ethiopia, Eritrea to re-open embassies
Agencies reported that the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea announced on Sunday they would re-open their embassies, hailing a stunningly swift rapprochement between bitter regional enemies at their first summit since a war two decades ago.
The two leaders personally symbolized the breakthrough, embracing warmly and swaying side by side to live traditional music at a lavish state dinner in the Eritrean capital.
They opened phone lines between the two countries that had been cut for two decades, and land-locked Ethiopia said it would be given access to the sea at an Eritrean port.
The talks were the product of an unexpected peace initiative by Ethiopia’s new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which could transform the Horn of Africa region, ending decades of animosity during which both countries remained isolated and dominated by their security forces.
Abiy said they had agreed to re-open embassies in each other’s capitals, and that his landlocked nation of 100 million would begin using a port in Eritrea, which is on the Red Sea. He did not identify which port.
Bold reform agenda
Abiy, a 41-year-old former intelligence officer who took office in April, is pushing other bold reforms to open Ethiopia up to the outside world after decades of security-obsessed isolation. He has pardoned dissidents, lifted a state of emergency and pledged to partly privatize key state-owned firms.
Across the border, Eritrea is one of the world’s most isolated and repressive nations and has long used the Ethiopian threat to justify hefty military spending and long-term military conscription, which has caused hundreds of thousands of young men to flee, mostly to Europe.
Eritrea may have seen an opportunity in Abiy’s reform agenda, which marks a stark departure from the approach of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan party that had dominated Ethiopia’s ruling EPRDF coalition since the early 1990s.