Ethiopia has welcomed Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki for his first visit in 22 years. The visit shores up a remarkable improvement in relations after a generation of mutual mistrust and enmity.

Afwerki's plane lands at Eritrea's airport

Afwerki, Eritrea’s president throughout its 25 years of independence, arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday – less than a week after the two countries declared the official end to a two-decade-old border war.

He was greeted upon landing in the capital Addis Ababa by reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who himself made a historic visit last weekend to Eritrea.

Chief of staff to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Fitsum Arega, thanked Isaias “for honoring us with a visit” in a statement.

DW’s correspondent in Addis Ababa Yohanes G. Egiziabher spoke to one excited onlooker who said he was looking forward to being able to cross the border to see friends.

“I am really happy today. I am very happy that I can reconnect with my brothers and old friends,” the man said. “From now on  there is no waiting for Facebook or a telephone call, rather we can meet each other in person. I am very happy that now we can go there by car.”

The 72-year-old Afwerki last visited Ethiopia in 1996, after Eritrea gained independence from its southern neighbor in 1993. That trip was followed by a 1998-2000 war over the disputed border that killed some 80,000 people.

The two countries signed an official declaration of peace on Monday, with the two leaders announcing joint development of ports in Eritrea, the reopening of roads from land-locked Ethiopia, and the restarting of flights.

Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia after a long war of independence, but territorial disputes were carried over to result in the conflict that ended in 2000. Although a peace agreement was signed at the time, Ethiopia refused to implement it.

Read more: Ethiopia’s Anuak refugees are wary of returning home

With the old Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa set to reopen on Sunday, some Ethiopians have compared the thawing of relations to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The refusal of Ethiopia to hand over border areas that were disputed has been used by Isaias to keep Eritrea in a state of perpetual military readiness, resulting in a system of conscription that has caused thousands of Eritreans to flee toward Europe and Israel.

rc/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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