Two border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea reopened on Tuesday 11 September, strengthening a promise of reconciliation between the countries’ leaders after a border war and 20 years of bitter relations.
In the presence of their defense forces, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afwerki opened the frontier at Bure, at the easternmost end of their common border. It was once an area of intense fighting.
The ceremony coincided with celebrations for the Ethiopian New Year.
“We heralded the new year by demolishing the trenches along our border,” Abiy told media. “As of today, Ethiopia’s defense forces (along the border with Eritrea) will be gathered to camps and ease the tension that was often extreme. The same will be done from the Eritrean side.”
Video and photos emerged of people embracing, dancing and weeping as flags of both nations flapped in the breeze.
Some analysts have compared the events to fall of the Berlin Wall. Families that were separated on either side of the border are finally able to reconnect. The border reopening will also bring back trade. Bure gives landlocked Ethiopia access to Red Sea ports. The other reopened crossing, in the frontier town of Zalambessa, is northwest of Bure and on a major trade route between the countries.
The path toward peace began shortly after Abiy took office. In July, he stepped off a plane in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and hugged its president. Together they rewrote the future of their countries by signing a peace deal.
The reopening of the border is the latest sign that the once icy relations have thawed. The summer saw telephone connections restored, the first commercial flight in 20 years from Ethiopia to Eritrea and embassies reopening in the capitals.
The Chief of Staff for the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Fitsum Arega, called the border reopening “the full normalization” of relations. He said that with roads linking the countries open, “our recent tragic history is coming to an end.”
“This is the happiest day of my life,” Ruta Haddis, an Eritrean who lives near Zalambessa, told media. “I never thought this would take place in my lifetime.”