Eritrea leader to visit Ethiopia on Saturday, latest step in surprise diplomatic thaw
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki is visiting Ethiopia on Saturday, the latest step in an unprecedented diplomatic thaw between the former archrivals that is ending one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.
Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, confirmed the visit on Twitter, saying it will “add momentum to the joint march for peace and cooperation.” The 72-year-old Isaias last visited Ethiopia in 1996.
The visit by the leader of one of the world’s most reclusive countries comes after Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a historic trip to Eritrea last weekend for hugs, laughter and talks with Isaias, setting off the restoration of diplomatic ties after two decades.
Now phone lines are restored and scheduled Ethiopian Airlines flights to Eritrea begin next week.
The thaw began when the 42-year-old Abiy, who took office in April, announced Ethiopia would fully accept a peace deal that ended a two-year border war that killed tens of thousands and separated families.
The decision, which hands disputed border areas to Eritrea, was the boldest move yet in a wave of reforms in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, after years of anti-government protests.
Tiny Eritrea is one of the world’s most closed-off nations, ruled by Afwerki since gaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after years of rebel warfare. Eritrea has become a major source of migrants fleeing toward Europe, Israel and African nations in recent years as human rights groups criticize its harsh military conscription laws.
Observers now wonder whether the end of fighting with Ethiopia will lead Eritrea to open up and embrace new freedoms.
BY ELIAS MESERET