Ethiopia’s prime minister said on Tuesday his government wanted to implement a deal restoring relations with former foe Eritrea quickly, to “make up for lost opportunities” after a two-decade military standoff.
Abiy Ahmed signed an agreement with Eritrean President Isaias Afkwerki on Monday, formally declaring the “state of war” between the neighbouring states was over.
“My government is keen to implement the terms we laid out in our Joint Declaration so as to quickly make up for lost opportunities and create even better ones for our people”, Abiy said in a letter to Isaias that was posted on Twitter by Abiy’s chief of staff.
The announcement promised to end of one of Africa’s most intractable military stand-offs, a conflict that has destabilised the region and seen both governments funnel large parts of their budgets into security and soldiers.
The two agreed to work together on ports, Ethiopian state media said, offering landlocked Ethiopia and its growing economy the prospect of a new route to the Red Sea.
Ahmed came to office in April and announced reforms that have turned politics on its head in his nation of 100 million.
With the 41-year-old former intelligence officer at the helm, the ruling coalition has ended a state of emergency, released political prisoners and announced plans to partially open up the economy to foreign investors.
In his boldest move, Abiy offered in June to make peace with Eritrea, 20 years after the neighbours started a border war that killed an estimated 80,000 people.
Full-blown fighting had ended by 2000, but their troops have faced off across their disputed frontier ever since.
Ahmed also said he would honour all the terms of a peace deal, suggesting he might be ready to settle the border row, particularly over the contested border town of Badme.
On Sunday, he flew to neighbouring Eritrea and embraced Isaias on the airport runway.
Thousands of Eritreans came onto the streets to cheer them and the two men danced side by side to traditional music from both countries at a dinner that evening.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the leaders after arriving in Addis to meet Abiy on Monday.
The reconciliation was “illustrative of a new wind of hope blowing across Africa,” he told reporters in the African Union headquarters. Sanctions imposed on Eritrea might become obsolete after the deal, he added.
The UN imposed penalties including include an arms embargo on Eritrea in 2009, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia – a charge it denies.
Both sides tweeted summaries of Monday’s agreement and repeated the reference to honouring the boundary decision.
“State of war has come to an end; The two nations will forge close political,economic,social,cultural & security cooperation, Trade, economic&diplomatic ties will resume, The boundary decision will be implemented, Both nations will work on regional peace,” read the Ethiopian version.
The “State of war that existed between the two countries has come to an end,” Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, wrote on Twitter.
State-owned Ethiopian Airlines will resume flights to Asmara next week, Ethiopian state-affiliated media reported.
The deal signed Monday also includes a resumption of phone connections, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said.
However, it has also attracted opposition from hardliners in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the ethnic Tigrayan party that has dominated the ruling EPRDF coalition – and by association the country and economy – for nearly three decades.
Two people were killed in a grenade blast at a massive pro-Abiy rally in Addis Ababa on June 23, with the finger of blame pointed at those opposed to his reform drive.
Ethiopia is a key ally of the U. S. and other Western powers in the fight against militants in the fragile Horn of Africa region.