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Ethiopia, Eritrea eye socioeconomic integration amid rapprochement of ties

(Xinhua) — The Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders on Thursday vowed to cement recent gains in the rapprochement of bilateral ties as the two former arch-rivals seek to deepen socio-economic integration.

This came on Thursday as the visiting Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki arrived in Ethiopia, accompanied by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and laid a foundation stone for the construction of a new Eritrea Embassy facility in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Afwerki, who is in Ethiopia together with a high-level Eritrean delegation including the country’s foreign minister Osman Saleh as well as other senior Eritrean government officials, during the occasion expressed the Red Sea nation’s resolve to start a new chapter after the two countries saw two decades of armed standoff.

The Eritrean president “reiterated Eritrea’s resolute decision to work with requisite vigor to recoup lost opportunities by three generations to bolster new chapter of cooperation between the two countries,” the Eritrean Minister of Information, Yemane Gebremeskel, quoted Afwerki as saying during the cornerstone-laying event.

The Ethiopian premier on his part also stressed that the construction of the new Eritrean embassy “will further cement the diplomatic ties between the two countries,” state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) quoted Ahmed as saying.

“During the visit, we had discussion on potential areas of economic integration and how to exploit them,” Ahmed said, adding that the two neighboring countries “will do more to lift the peoples of the two countries out of poverty.”

Ahmed further noted that the imminent 2020 “will be a year to lay foundation to bring prosperity to the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as to the whole East African region.”

Afwerki and his high-level delegation’s visit to Ethiopia came as the two Horn of Africa countries over the past year embarked on bilateral efforts to normalize ties as the long-time rivalry among the two neighboring nations ended after a series of events that started soon after Ahmed’s appointment as Ethiopia’s prime minister back in April last year.

Recent positive developments in the two countries’ relations are considered a new beginning since the two countries’ bloody border war from 1998-2000, which killed an estimated 70,000 people from both sides. The war was ended by a December 2000 Algiers peace agreement, but it left the two countries in a state of bitter armed standoff for two decades.

After 20 years of hostility, Ethiopia and Eritrea resumed diplomatic relations last year, mainly following the Ethiopian PM Ahmed’s landmark visit to the Red Sea nation in July in 2018, and a week after, Eritrea’s Afwerki paid a courtesy visit to Ethiopia.

Amid the easing tensions, telecom services between the two countries have resumed, embassies resumed diplomatic relations, and agreements were made to strengthen bilateral ties. The two countries’ flag carriers – Ethiopian Airlines and Eritrean Airlines – have also started flights to Asmara and Addis Ababa, respectively.

Leaders of the two countries had also agreed to increase the movement and amount of bilateral trade through Eritrea’s port city of Assab to Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa.

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