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Ethiopia-Eritrea land borders reopen after 20 years

Updated September 12, 2018

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ADDIS ABABA: Two land border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea were reopened on Tuesday for the first time in 20 years, crowning a rapid reconciliation between the former bitter enemies.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki attended ceremonies at the eastern and western ends of the border, Eritrean Infor­m­ation Minister Yemane Geb­re Meskel said on Twitter.

The eastern border post between Bure in Ethiopia and Debay Sima in Eritrea, and the western border post between Zalambessa and Serha, were among those clo­sed in 1998 as the neighbouring Horn of Africa nations cut diplomatic ties at the outbreak of a short but bloody two-year frontier fight.

The ensuing cold war stymied development and tra­de, and undermined regional security, but in a surprise move earlier this year, Abiy began peace overtures, which were welcomed by Eritrea.

Key to this was Abiy’s acceptance in June of a UN-backed court ruling in 2002 demarcating the contested border and handing back some occupied territory to Eritrea, including the disputed town of Badme.

On Tuesday — a national holiday to mark Ethiopian New Year — Abiy and Isaias, dressed in military fatigues, paid a joint visit to the disputed eastern border zone that both countries have claimed. Soldiers lined the road to mark its reopening.

Abiy’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, said the visit was, “to celebrate the New Year with members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Defence Forces following the full normalisation of the relations between the two countries.” At Zalambessa, soldiers manning the crossing on a rough road that cuts through the shared no man’s land together dismantled piles of sandbags while a red carpet was rolled over the potholes and flags were raised for the border’s ceremonial reopening.

A live broadcast on Ethiopian state television showed a large cheering crowd celebrating the reopening of the road with soldiers and civilians from both countries dancing together and greeting one another.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2018