Ethiopian leader visits Asmara for historic peace talks

Ethiopian leader visits Asmara for historic peace talks

Abiy stepped from an Ethiopian Airlines plane at the airport in Asmara to be greeted by Isaias, the two men embracing before they strode off along a red carpet.

"The people of our region are joined in common goal", Ethiopia's new prime minister Abiy Ahmed said, according to a tweet from his chief of staff, after signing a pact on resuming ties with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

"[The prime minister] is expected to talk with the Eritrean leadership on how to mend fences".

Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has become the first head of government to visit Eritrea, breaking away from the "no-peace, no-war" situation that has existed between the neighboring countries for the past two decades.

The two embraced again at the state dinner, hosted by Afwerki and broadcast on both countries' state television.

The visit comes a month after Abiy surprised people by fully accepting a peace deal that ended a two-year border war between the two East African nations that killed tens of thousands.

Abiy's chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, said on Twitter that the visit will "further deepen efforts to bring about lasting peace".

The Eritrean leader also effused about the new era of friendly relations between the two countries.

However, the sides did not make clear whether the most immediate issue - Abiy's pledge to finally implement all terms of a 2000 peace deal with Eritrea - had been addressed.

The leaders of bitter foes Ethiopia and Eritrea met on Sunday, hugging and smiling for cameras in Eritrea's capital as officials on both sides heralded an end to a near 20-year military standoff.

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Crowds lined the streets of the Eritrean capital cheering on the leaders' convoy, waving the twinned flags of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

They opened phone lines between the two countries that had been cut for two decades, and land-locked Ethiopia said it would be given access to the sea at an Eritrean port.

Eritrea responded positively, sending a delegation to Addis Ababa last month.

However, Ethiopian troops have yet to withdraw from the disputed territories along the border, and numerous Ethiopian residents of Badme are against ceding their town to Eritrea.

The talks were the product of an unexpected peace initiative by Ethiopia's new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which could transform the Horn of Africa region, ending decades of animosity during which both countries remained isolated and dominated by their security forces.

The two neighbors also agreed to resume flights, open embassies and develop ports together.

The unexpected rapprochement with Eritrea has won worldwide plaudits for Abiy, who took office in April and announced last month said he would honour the terms of a peace deal after the 1998-2000 war.

Abiy has also pardoned dissidents, lifted a state of emergency and promised to partly privatise important state-owned firms.

Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa and an economic powerhouse, but Eritrea is one of the world's most closed and militarized societies, often compared with North Korea.

However, it has also attracted opposition from hardliners in the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan party that has dominated the ruling EPRDF coalition - and by association the country and economy - for almost three decades.