Eritrea President Isaias Afwerki warmly welcomed by Abiy Ahme, prime minister of Ethiopia at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport on July 14, 2018 for his official visit to Ethiopia after more than 20 years stay in border conflict with Ethiopia. (Photo: Xinhua)
Longtime Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki touched down in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Saturday for a three-day state visit that boosts hopes for reconciliation between the two former bitter rivals.
Afwerki's visit to Ethiopia, the first in more than 20 years, capped a month of fast moving developments intended to break the hostilities between the two countries since they fought a bloody border war from 1998-2000, which killed an estimated 70,000 people from both sides.
The war was ended by a December 2000 Algiers peace agreement, but it left the two countries in a state of bitter armed standoff.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a visit to Eritrea's capital last weekend, welcomed by Afwerki and given a street parade with thousands of Eritreans lining the streets to greet Ahmed.
The visit by Afwerki and Ahmed to each other's countries comes in a month of fast moving events, ever since the executive committee of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) decided on June 5 to fully accept the Algiers peace agreement.
Ethiopia had previously declined to endorse the results of the peace agreement fully, including giving the symbolically important town of Badme to Ethiopia.
Eritrea for its part had until recently insisted the border demarcation must be done first before any talks on normalizing ties.
Thousands of Ethiopians lined the streets of Addis Ababa singing and chanting, wearing makeup with Eritrean and Ethiopian symbols or T-shirts with images of Afwerki and Ahmed.
One such Ethiopian was Tariku Kejela who said he had a personal reason to cheer the reconciliation steps the two leaders are undertaking. Kejela lost his younger brother, an Ethiopian soldier, during the two-year border war with Eritrea.
"For many years I was praying the two countries would make peace, today I thank god for showing me this wonderful moment of peace and love between Ethiopia and Eritrea," Kejela told Xinhua.
Referring to the June 23 deadly grenade attack in Addis Ababa at a rally to support PM Abiy Ahmed and dissatisfaction among some Ethiopians over the peace process with Eritreans, Kejela called on Ethiopians to look out for those who want to sabotage the peace process.
"From now our relationship with our Eritrean brothers and sisters will accelerate at fast lane, every Ethiopian should stop those they believe wish to wreck the peace process" he said.
Kejela's opinion was echoed by Aryam Worede, an Eritrean refugee living in Ethiopia, who was among dozens of Eritreans in Addis Ababa cheering the arrival of Afwerki.
"We've seen the terrible face of war, if there is peace there is everything to gain, 20 years isn't an easy time, I believe now the reconciliation process is irreversible because we've seen that the alternative isn't good," she told Xinhua.
WE ARE ONE PEOPLE
On Saturday, Afwerki gave a speech at the Ethiopian national palace, seemingly echoing back to the time when Ethiopia and Eritrea were one country before the latter gained independence.
Eritrea formally declared its independence from Ethiopia in April 1993 in a referendum, but the two countries share close cultural, ethnic and religious ties.
Afwerki said history is being made due to Ahmed's decision to break the hostilities between the two countries showing the longing and love between the two peoples.
"Eritreans and Ethiopians are happy because of this moment we can say from this moment we are not two people but one people," he said.
Afwerki and Ahmed have good reasons to be optimistic about the two countries' ongoing reconciliation momentum.
On Monday, the two leaders signed a peace declaration which among other things agreed to implement the peace agreement and resume diplomatic and economic ties.
With Eritrea eager to end isolation in the East African region and landlocked Ethiopia eyeing Eritrea's long coastline as an alternative sea outlet for its fast-growing economy, the two leaders have hoped to build economic muscle to their political momentum.
Ethiopia's flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines has announced it will start flights to Eritrean capital, Asmara on July 18, the first flights by an Ethiopian air carrier in 20 years, while telephone lines between the two countries was restored earlier this week.