ADDIS ABABA– The first commercial flights from Ethiopia to Eritrea in 20 years took off early on Wednesday, sealing a stunning reconciliation between the former enemies a week after they ended their military standoff.
More than 400 passengers boarded two Ethiopian Airlines planes in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, many of them waving the countries’ flags and wearing T-Shirts with slogans celebrating the rapprochement.
Ethiopia’s former prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, told Reuters on board he felt “heartfelt joy”. “There has been hatred between us (Ethiopia and Eritrea) for the last twenty years – now that has been reversed.”
A Boeing 787 with 315 people on board and a 737 with 154 passengers were due to land in Asmara about one hour and 25 minutes later.
The flights cemented peace efforts pushed by Ethiopia’s new prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to office in April and announced a series of reforms that have turned politics on its head in the region.
With the 41-year-old former intelligence officer at the helm, the ruling coalition has ended a state of emergency, released political prisoners and announced plans to partially open up the economy – including letting foreign investors take stakes in state-run Ethiopian Airlines
In his boldest move, Abiy offered last month to make peace with Eritrea, 20 years after the neighbours started a border war that killed an estimated 80,000 people. Full-blown fighting had ended by 2000, but their troops have faced off across their disputed frontier ever since.
Abiy has since visited Asmara and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki reopened his nation’s embassy in Addis Ababa on Monday.