In Summary
  • Horn of Africa nations cut ties after the outbreak of a 1998-2000 border war that killed 80,000 people.

  • Eritrea was once part of Ethiopia and comprised its entire coastline on the Red Sea.

  • Eritrea voted for independence in 1993 after decades of bloody conflict.

ADDIS ABABA,

A two-decade war was declared over this week in an emotional reunion between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but analysts warn many hurdles remain to repair years of bitter relations despite the dizzying peace process.

The Horn of Africa nations cut ties after the outbreak of a 1998-2000 border war that killed 80,000 people and degenerated into a diplomatic stalemate after Ethiopia refused to cede land to Eritrea in violation of a United Nations ruling.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 41, reversed that policy last month, paving the way for a historic meeting with Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, 71, which ended in a declaration Monday that the “state of war ... has come to an end.”

The two nations have restored telephone communications for the first time in two decades and Ethiopian Airlines is set to begin passenger flights between the two capitals as early as next week.

DEMARCATING BORDER

But despite the diplomatic bonhomie, negotiating access to Eritrean ports for Ethiopian goods, demarcating the contentious border region and ensuring good relations will not be simple, analysts say.

“Certainly, we need to proceed with some caution. I think there is a long way to go, but ultimately everybody wants lasting peace in the region,” Horn of Africa researcher with Chatham House Ahmed Soliman told AFP.

Eritrea was once part of Ethiopia and comprised its entire coastline on the Red Sea until it voted for independence in 1993 after decades of bloody conflict.

This move rendered Ethiopia landlocked, and the deterioration of relations after the outbreak of the war in 1998 forced Ethiopia to channel its sea trade through Djibouti.

ALGIERS AGREEMENT

The two countries have shown little signs of rapprochement since the signing of the Algiers peace agreement in 2000.

Analysts say the surprisingly rapid burying of the hatchet was possible only because of Abiy’s ascension to the post of prime minister in April.

But Abiy, described by Soliman as “a man in an extreme hurry” is already facing internal dissent over the rapprochement, notably from the minority Tigrayan population who live along the border and face losing territory to Eritrea.

Soliman said leaders from the Tigray ethnic group were “notably absent” from the talks in Asmara and that “their inclusion will be critical to the implementation of peace.”

Isaias, the only leader Eritrea has known since independence, was a rival to Ethiopia’s former prime minister Meles Zenawi, a Tigrayan who presided over the war and the decision to ignore the 2002 boundary ruling.

ISAIS-MELES WAR

The Ethiopia-Eritrea war “was between Isais and Meles,” said Kjetil Tronvoll, professor of peace and conflict studies at Bjorknes University College in Norway.

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