Ethiopia, Eritrea Restart Air Service After decades

Amid thaw in ties between Ethiopia, Eritrea, relatives set to reunite through flight after 20 years

The first Ethiopian Airlines commercial flight to neighbouring Eritrea in 20 years took off on Wednesday.

With 456 passengers on board, the flight set off for the capital Asmara following a successful thaw in ties between the Horn of Africa countries that began this May.

On July 9, the leaders of the two countries agreed to resurrect land and air transport links plus phone service and allow Ethiopia to use the port of Assab.

Ethiopians keen on seeing their Eritrean relatives, Eritreans living in Ethiopia, government officials and curious citizens who want to visit neighbouring Eritrea – which was part of Ethiopia until 1993 – are among the first passengers to Asmara.

Also among the passengers on the historic flight are former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and his wife Roman Tesfaye.

Many Eritreans long separated from their relatives booked the return flight.

Ethiopian Airlines is now set to fly twice a week to its northern neighbour.

Earlier this month, Ethiopian leader visited Asmara for historic peace talks

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has become the first head of government to visit Eritrea, breaking away from the “no-peace, no-war” situation that has existed between the neighbouring countries for the past two decades.

Ahmed arrived in the Eritrean capital Asmara for historic peace talks Sunday.

The initiative came on the heels of a visit by Eritrea’s high-level delegation to Ethiopia last month, including Yemane Gebreab, President Isaias Afeworki’s special adviser and Foreign Minister Usman Salah.

“This visit is part of efforts to normalize relations with Eritrea,” Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Meles Alem told Anadolu Agency.

“[The prime minister] is expected to talk with the Eritrean leadership on how to mend fences.”

In May, Ethiopia announced it would implement the December 2000 Algiers agreement and the decisions of the International Boundary Commission.

The Algiers agreement came after the two neighbours fought a bloody war from 1998-2000 in which 70,000-80,000 people perished on both sides.

The international boundary commission later decided that Badme, a borderland that was a flashpoint of the conflict, belonged to Eritrea while it ruled that Eritrea should compensate Ethiopia for the huge amount of Ethiopian shipment confiscated in Assab Port.

Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993.