The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea have agreed to meet for the first time in nearly 20 years, a surprising sign of a diplomatic thaw between the neighboring northeast African nations.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu told The Associated Press Thursday the meeting will “create a fertile ground to restore peace.” He added that a time and location had not been determined.
Ethiopia’s top diplomat spoke as an Eritrean delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh ended a historic three-day visit to Ethiopia.
The countries severed relations when a border war broke out in 1998, five years after Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia.
The meeting will bring together reformist Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, the leader of one of the world’s most reclusive countries.
The meeting was announced after an overture from Abiy, who announced earlier this month that Ethiopia would cede territory it has held since the 1998-2000 conflict.
Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, voted for independence in 1993 after decades of conflict. The countries went to war five years later over a border dispute. More than 80,000 people were killed in the conflict and led to an extended cold war between the closely related countries.
In a highly symbolic move, Abiy greeted the Eritrean delegation Tuesday at the airport, who were adorned with flowers and necklaces. At a reception that night at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Abiy said, “We have tried war and found it useless.”
Abiy also announced Ethiopian Airlines will begin flights to Eritrea. “We want our brothers and sisters to come here and visit us as soon as possible,” he said.