Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki reopened his country’s embassy in Ethiopia on Monday, the latest in a series of dizzying peace moves after two decades of war between the neighbours.
The embassy inauguration caps Isaias’s historic visit to the Ethiopian capital aimed at cementing peace less than a week after the former enemies declared an end to the conflict.
State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) showed Isaias raising the Eritrean flag at the embassy in downtown Addis Ababa and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed handing him keys to the building, filled with dusty furniture that appeared untouched for years.
The embassy visit marked the end of Isaias’s three-day stay in Ethiopia which also saw him visiting an industrial park and attending dinner and a concert on Sunday evening.
Thousands of Ethiopians packed an exhibition hall, waving Eritrean flags and chanting Isaias’s name as both leaders pledged commitment to their newfound unity.
“Both nations have chosen peace as opposed to war,” said Abiy, as Isaias also voiced his support, saying: “We won’t allow anyone to stop this from happening.”
The 71-year-old Eritrean strongman left Addis shortly after the embassy opening, EBC reported.
Writing on Twitter, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said the trip had “inexorably elevated bilateral ties of both countries to new, promising, heights.”
He described the embassy opening as “yet another milestone in the robust (and) special ties of peace and friendship both countries are cultivating with earnestness in these momentous times.”
Once a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea voted to leave in 1993 after a bloody, decades-long independence struggle.
Ethiopia and Eritrea expelled each others’ envoys at the start of a 1998-2000 border war that killed around 80,000 people.
Relations remained frozen after Ethiopia declined to accept a 2002 United Nations-backed border demarcation, leading to years of cold war between the two countries.
Last month, Abiy announced Ethiopia would accept the demarcation and cede land to Eritrea. However, it has not yet announced the withdrawal of troops from the area.
Abiy has pursued an aggressive reform agenda since taking office in April, including making peace with Eritrea, releasing jailed dissidents and liberalising parts of the economy.
After declaring his intention to make peace on June 5, events have moved at breakneck speed.
Abiy visited Asmara a month later, announcing the normalisation of diplomatic and economic ties, and on July 9, the two leaders signed a joint declaration declaring the end of the war.
Telecommunications links were quickly restored and Ethiopian Airlines will on Wednesday make its first passenger flight between the nations in 20 years.
Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Meles Alem told AFP Ethiopia had not yet reopened its embassy in the Eritrean capital Asmara.
Amnesty International has said the newfound peace should be a catalyst for change in Eritrea, one of the world’s most isolated nations.
Since the end of the war, Isaias has used the threat of Ethiopian aggression to justify a rash of repressive policies, including an indefinite national service programme the UN has likened to slavery.