Afw­erki pays visit to Ethiopia

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

AD­DIS ABABA: Eritrea’s Pres­i­dent Isa­ias Afw­erki is vis­it­ing Ethiopia to­day, 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 Mr Afw­erki 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 Mr Afw­erki, set­ting off the restora­tion of diplo­matic ties af­ter two decades.

Some ju­bi­lant Ethiopi­ans com­pared it to the fall of the Ber­lin Wall in 1989. Now, phone lines are re­stored and sched­uled Ethiopian Air­lines flights to Eritrea be­gin next week.

Mr Abiy’s chief of staff, Fit­sum Arega, con­firmed the Eritrean pres­i­dent’s three­day state visit, say­ing on Twit­ter: “We wel­come him warmly!’’

The thaw be­gan when the 42-yearold Mr Ahmed, 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 of re­forms in Ethiopia, Africa’s se­cond most pop­u­lous coun­try, af­ter years of antigov­ern­ment protests and un­rest.

The United States, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and oth­ers have praised the end of the coun­tries’ state of war, with the coun­cil calling it a “his­toric and sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment with far-reach­ing pos­i­tive con­se­quences for the Horn of Africa and be­yond’’.

Tiny Eritrea, lo­cated on one of the world’s busiest ship­ping lanes and across the Red Sea from the Ara­bian Penin­sula, has been ruled by Mr 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 crit­i­cise 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.

AP

Ethiopia’s Prime Min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed, cen­tre right, is wel­comed by Eritrea’s Pres­i­dent Isa­ias Afw­erki as he dis­em­barks on a visit to Eritrea ear­lier this week.

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