With hugs, leaders of rivals Ethiopia, Eritrea finally meet

With laughter and hugs, the leaders of longtime rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea met for the first time in nearly two decades on Sunday amid a rapid and dramatic diplomatic thaw aimed at ending one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.

Ethiopia’s reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea’s capital and a live broadcast by Eritrean state television showed President Isaias Afwerki greeting him at the airport in scenes unthinkable just months ago. “A brotherly embrace,” Eritrea’s information minister said on Twitter, sharing photos .

Crowds danced and sang for the leaders, and Asmara’s streets were hung with Ethiopian and Eritrean flags. Abiy and Afwerki traveled across the capital in a large motorcade as people wearing T-shirts with their photos cheered. The leaders then met one-on-one, with a smiling Abiy leaning toward Afwerki under a wall hung with their portraits.

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Photo Credit- Times Columbia

The visit comes a month after Abiy surprised people by fully accepting a peace deal that ended a two-year border war between the two East African nations that killed tens of thousands. Ethiopia and Eritrea have not had diplomatic ties since the war began in 1998, with Abiy himself fighting in a town that remains contested today, and the countries have skirmished since then.

Abiy’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, said on Twitter that the visit aims to “further deepen efforts to bring about lasting peace.” He shared photos of the leaders’ meeting and said Abiy was “very warmly received” by the 72-year-old Afwerki.

Ethiopians expressed welcome shock at the meeting, which was shown live by Ethiopia’s state TV.

“Historic … the beginning of the end. The glass ceiling has been broken,” one resident, Shewit Wudassie, wrote on Facebook. Another Facebook user, Djphat Su, wrote: “Am I dreaming or what?”

“Reconciliation would deprive President Isaias of an excuse for maintaining his country in a permanent state of military readiness” that has deprived Eritrea of any form of democracy, said Martin Plaut, author of “Understanding Eritrea” and a senior research fellow with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London

Article sourced from Associated Press

Photo Credit- Tadias Magazine

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