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President Isayas Afewerki arrived in Addis Ababa to a cheerful crowd that Addis have never seen in its recent history. Addis Ababans have never lined up on the streets of Addis to greet another head of state but yesterday was another scene. Last week Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was also greeted in the same manner at Asmara after the two leaders broke the deadlock.
A few weeks ago, Ethiopia and Eritrea were enemies, as they had been for the past two decades, yet now they are behaving as if they are the best of friends.
Thousands turned out in the streets of Addis under tight security to welcome President Isaias Afwerki, whose three-day visit is the latest step in ending a long state of war. “Welcome home President Isaias!!” the Ethiopian prime minister’s chief of staff Fitsum Arega said on Twitter.
Since the 42-year-old Abiy broke the ice last month by fully embracing a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war that killed tens of thousands and left families separated, the two countries established the direct connection of long lost telephone lines and daily flights were said to be resumed next week.
Telephone links have opened, with some Ethiopians calling complete strangers in Eritrea just to say hello, and the first scheduled Ethiopian Airlines flights to Eritrea begin on Wednesday.
A journalist at Eritrea weekly wrote that when he was going to go out of office the telephone rang and have to answer callers from Ethiopia. “The office’s phone rang out of my expectation. I picked the phone to hear a group of people screaming merriments in Amharic. I roughly understood their greetings, but still, replied in my language. We were using the little we know of our respective languages to say peace –selam and love you. And just like me, many more Eritreans have been getting random calls from Ethiopian people and vice-versa.”
A series of diplomatic breakthroughs quickly followed as one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts neared an end.
The international community has embraced the warm reunion as a welcome development in a critical and often unstable region along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and across from the Arabian Peninsula.
The old Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa has undergone a rapid renovation and is expected to open during Isaias’ visit. The two leaders also are expected to attend a concert of about 25,000 people on Sunday featuring local artists.
President Isaias also received a surprise gift of a horse, a shield and a spear from Oromia Regional President Lemma Megerssa during his visit on Saturday at the National Palace.