Ethiopia-Eritrea border: Landmark summit aims to end conflict

New Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed is meeting veteran Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki

New Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed is meeting veteran Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki

Ethiopia's reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea's capital and was welcomed with hugs and laughter by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, a joyous scene unthinkable just months ago.

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

Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia amicably in 1993 but the two countries swiftly became bitter enemies.

Beyond the officials' tweets, there were no official comments from either camp on the two nations' state broadcasters.

Sunday's historic visit came after Abiy's move last month to abide by the 2002 decision from the UN-backed commission aimed at settling Ethiopia and Eritrea's border dispute, which fuelled the two-year war. "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.

"Received the first call from Asmara in Eritrea!" exclaimed Ermiyas Teklu in Ethiopia, after speaking to his uncle and his family after more than two decades when telecommunications between the neighboring countries were blocked.

Abiy's Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega wrote on Twitter that Ethiopia had officially submitted a request to Guterres during his visit to Addis Ababa for the lifting of sanctions against Eritrea, which include an arms embargo as well as asset freeze and travel bans against select individuals. Full-blown fighting ended in 2000, but their troops have faced off across their disputed frontier ever since.

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

Crowds lined the streets of the Eritrean capital cheering on the leaders' convoy, waving the twinned flags of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The landmark visit saw both countries signing a joint declaration of peace and friendship. Prime Minister Abiy also confirmed both countries will resume flights, open their seaports as well as re-open embassies in each other's capital. He did not identify which port.

The 41-year-old Ethiopian Prime Minister, who took office in April, has introduced a series of far-reaching reforms that have transformed Ethiopia's authoritarian regime in the past three months.

He has pardoned dissidents, lifted a state of emergency and pledged to partly privatise key state-owned firms.

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.

Observers say Eritrea has seen an opportunity in Abiy's reform agenda, largely because it is a stark departure from that of his arch rival: the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan party that has dominated the ruling EPRDF coalition - and by association Ethiopia and its economy - since the early 1990s.