Tuesday, February 19, 2019
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Ethiopia-Eritrea border opens for first time in 20 years

Former foes have reconciled in recent months, reopening embassies, resuming flights and now reopening the border.

Ethiopian and Eritrean troops will withdraw from the border as the rapprochement between the one-time enemies continues in rapid fashion.

The announcement was made on Tuesday shortly after the countries officially opened the border following two decades of tensions.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed - in comments carried by the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate - said: "to ease the tense atmosphere that existed in border areas, Ethiopian defence forces will return to various camps to recover and obtain additional training. The same will be done on the Eritrean side".

Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki opened the frontier at Burre, a region that saw some of the fiercest fighting during their 1998-2000 war.

Tensions over the border burned on after the fighting ended until Abiy offered to end the military standoff this year as part of a package of reforms that has reshaped the political landscape in the Horn of Africa and beyond.

The two leaders also celebrated the Ethiopian new year together with their troops at Burre, before opening another border crossing point between Ethiopian border town of Zalambesa and Serha on the Eritrean side.

"PM Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afwerki are visiting Bure Front along Ethio-Eritrea border to celebrate the New Year with members of the Ethiopian & Eritrean Defense Forces following the full normalization of the relations between the two countries. #Ethiopia #Eritrea," Fitsum Arega, Abiy's Chief of Staff, said on Twitter.

Pictures on Fitsum's Twitter account showed Abiy and Isaias walking side by side.

Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Meskel said on Twitter the border post was now opened for road transport.

The reopening of the border will pave the way for the flow of people and goods between the neighbours.

Since signing an agreement in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, on July 9 to restore ties, the leaders from the neighbouring countries have moved swiftly to end the two decades of hostility.

Eritrea reopened its embassy in Ethiopia in July, and Ethiopia reciprocated last week.

Commercial flights have been resumed between the two countries and telephone lines restored, while Asmara has agreed to open up its ports to its landlocked neighbour and last week announced plans to upgrade a road between them. The opening of the Burre crossing will provide Ethiopia with access to the Red Sea port of Assab.

Residents at another part of the border said Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers started clearing landmines on Monday, ahead of a potential opening.

Ethiopia follows a calendar similar to the ancient Julian calendar, which started disappearing from the West in the 16th century, meaning the country entered its year 2011 on Tuesday.

Unlike the Gregorian calendar used officially in Eritrea and the West, Ethiopia's version squeezes 13 months into every year - 12 months comprising 30 days each and a final month made up of just five or six days depending on whether it is a leap year.

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