1st commercial flight from Ethiopia to ex-rival Eritrea

1st commercial flight from Ethiopia to ex-rival Eritrea

To dancing and cheers, Eritrea's longtime president arrived in Ethiopia for his first visit in 22 years on Saturday amid a dramatic diplomatic thaw between the once-bitter rivals.

The expansion of tourism with the new flights brings a likely economic boost to Eritrea, which has faced years of United Nations sanctions over alleged support to extremists, which the government has denied. Isaias later flew home, he said.

There were loud cheers, and some tears, during the 80-minute journey when the plane's captain announced that Ethiopian Airlines' flight ET01312 had crossed into Eritrean airspace. "Anyone who thinks the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia are separated is considered as naïve from now on".

"The bird of peace has just flown to Asmara!" said Ethiopian Airlines, one of the biggest airlines in Africa, in a post to Twitter along with a photo of the Boeing 787 airliner taking off. He was also handed a horse and a camel as gifts - national symbols in the two countries.

"Thank you for the genuine love that you all showed us", Isaias said.

"Eshetu said: "I am Selehadin and I am calling from Ethiopia".

Surafel Demissie, an Ethiopian priest whose parents died during his childhood, had never been to Eritrea - the country of his mother's birth - nor met any family members.


Among the passengers on the first flight was former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose shock resignation in February was the first step in a series of seismic shifts in the politics of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. "I knew one day it would happen", he said of the peace with Eritrea.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed an estimated 70,000 people from both sides.

The rapprochement is expected to provide an economic boost to both nations, offering booming Ethiopia - which now channels its trade through Djiboutian ports - access to Eritrean shores.

While the two countries share close cultural ties, the border war and Ethiopia's later refusal to hand over disputed border areas was used by the 72-year-old Isaias to keep Eritrea in a state of military readiness, with a system of compulsory conscription that led thousands of Eritreans to flee toward Europe, Israel and elsewhere. Afwerki reciprocated with a state visit to Ethiopia just days later.

The brief ceremony for the reopening of the embassy was witnessed by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki. They signed a joint declaration of peace on Sunday, July 8, in Asmara, bringing an end to one of East Africa's most massive refugee crises.

The global community, including the United States, has praised the end of hostilities.

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