Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Picture: REUTERS
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Picture: REUTERS

Addis Ababa — Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was warmly greeted by Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, on Sunday at the start of a meeting to repair relations between the neighbours.

Eritrean television showed footage of the two men embracing while Abiy’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, tweeted photographs saying, "The visit offers a spectacular opportunity to decidedly move forward peace for the good of our people."

In a scene unimaginable just weeks ago, Abiy stepped from an Ethiopian Airlines plane at the airport in Asmara, greeting Isaias and hugging him before the pair strode off along a red carpet. They made no comment before heading to a meeting.

"The visit is part of efforts to normalise relations with Eritrea. [Abiy] is expected to talk with the Eritrean leadership [about] how to mend fences," Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Meles Alem told AFP.

The historic meeting came after Abiy’s announcement in June that Ethiopia would cede to Eritrea land along the countries’ border it occupies in violation of a 2002 UN-backed boundary demarcation. Ethiopia’s refusal to implement the demarcation led to a deadlock in relations between the two even after the end of the boundary war, which killed 80,000 people between 1998 and 2000.

Once a province of Ethiopia that comprised its entire coastline, Eritrea voted to leave in 1993 after a bloody independence struggle.

The break rendered Ethiopia landlocked, and ties deteriorated five years later when a dispute over their shared frontier descended into war.

In office since April, Abiy has pursued an ambitious reform agenda, including reversing years of policy and announcing Ethiopia would abide by the 2002 boundary ruling.

The move paved the way for two top Eritrean officials to visit Addis Ababa in June, after which the meeting between the two leaders was announced. But Ethiopia has yet to withdraw from disputed territory along the border, including the town of Badme, which it controls in violation of the UN ruling.