Between 1998 and 2000 Ethiopian and Eritrea found a deadly border war ; over 80,000 soldiers were killed on both sides. Twenty years later, Ethiopia and Eritrea could not find much meaning not just to the war but to the border itself. They are now learning that there is actually more meaning in the border is no more a border.
Yesterday, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told a crowd gathered at the Millennium Hall, for Ethiopian New Year eve celebration in the capital Addis Ababa, that Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers will celebrate the holiday together.
As it turns out, Abiy Ahmed and his deputy (Demeke Mekonen) and Eritrean president Isayas Afeworki showed up in two border areas between the two countries to celebrate the Ethiopian New Year with the soldiers from Eritrea and Ethiopia.
They first flew to the North East to Debay Sima-Bure border where they met with soldiers from both countries and celebrated the Ethiopian New Year.
President Isayas Afeworki was dressed in his, seemingly, favorite casual style with sandals while Abiy Ahmed was dressed in full US marine style fatigues.
Flags of the two countries were hoisted in dignity and in a spirit of friendship.
Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers witnessed history as the leaders of the two countries re-open the border in Bure which was closed and heavily guarded for over twenty years due to the state of war which ended this July after Ethiopia’s rapprochement initiative bore fruit.
Also, on both sides of the boarder in the region are Afar people who were divided following the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1995 and the subsequent war between the two countries.
The leaders celebrated the Ethiopian New Year with soldiers from both countries after re-opening of the border area in the region, according to Chief of Staff in the office of the prime minister, Fitsum Arega.
PM Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afwerki are celebrating New Year with members of the Ethiopian & Eritrean Defense Forces at Bure Front along Ethio-Eritrea border following the full normalization of the relations between the two countries. #Ethiopia #Eritrea pic.twitter.com/hbtvzRqNAe
— Fitsum Arega (@fitsumaregaa) September 11, 2018
The two leaders headed to Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, after the morning celebration in the Bure Front.
In the afternoon, they headed to Zalambessa Front in Northwestern Tigray region where they officially reopened the border from that part of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Pictures released in social media depict a scene of a tense emotional reunification of families who have been separated for more than twenty years. Verified video footages released after the reopening of the border show people from both countries dancing and singing to celebrate the new reality.
The soldiers from the two countries carried no weapon and they were mixed together and took pictures together.
Demeke Mekonen, Derbretsion Gebremichael (chairman of TPLF and Tigray region head) and Osman Saleh (Eritrean Foreign Affairs Minister) were among the attendees of the ceremony in the Zalambessa.
The significance of the re-opening of the border is that there will be free movement of people and commercial goods from both sides which will also reinvigorate social and cultural ties between people from both countries.
Leaders of the two countries have agreed to withdraw troops from the border completely.
In a statement soon after his return from this trip, Abiy talked about the unfortunate circumstances that soldiers had been living with in trenches in an environmentally adverse condition and the impact it had on their physical well-being . He told journalists that the soldiers will be moving to barracks for recovery and rehabilitation.
Reactions of Ethiopians and Eritreans to the reopening of road transport and the border between the two countries seem is positive.
In fact, what is unfolding has clearly become a cause for celebration not just for people in the region but also across the rest of Ethiopia and elsewhere.
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