NAIROBI, Kenya — Eritrea has appointed its first ambassador to neighboring Ethiopia in two decades, the government said on Saturday, as the two countries pushed on with a surprise rapprochement.
The development was part of a head-snapping series of diplomatic moves between the two nations, after they formally declared an end this month to their “state of war,” a two-decade standoff that followed a brutal border conflict that claimed about 80,000 lives.
The job of ambassador went to Semere Russom, who was Eritrea’s education minister and a former envoy to the United States, Information Minister Yemane G. Meskel said on Twitter.
President Isaias Afwerki has appointed the current Minister of Education, Mr. Semere Russom, as Ambassador to Ethiopia. Mr. Semere, who will retain his Ministerial rank, has served as Eritrea’s Ambassador to the US and Governor of the Central Region in previous years pic.twitter.com/GGTiWQNKqv
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) July 21, 2018
In a joint declaration ending the state of war on July 9, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea said, “A new era of peace and friendship has been opened.”
Mr. Abiy visited Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, this month, and Mr. Isaias returned the favor on July 14, taking a trip to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia’s leader set the events in motion in June by embracing a peace deal intended to end the conflict between the two countries. Ethiopia has also asked the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, to lift sanctions against Eritrea.
Eritrea fought a decades-long struggle against Ethiopian dominance and annexation to secure independence in 1993. Five years later, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a former Italian colony, broke out over their shared border.
The Eritrean government was accused of using the state of war to justify endless military service, which in turn fueled an exodus of young Eritreans, who were among the largest group of people landing on Mediterranean shores during the height of Europe’s migration crisis.
Since the diplomatic thaw, passenger flights have resumed between the two countries, with the first commercial flight from Ethiopia to Eritrea landing on Wednesday. The Ethiopian Airlines flight to Asmara received a red-carpet welcome.
An Ethiopian state TV journalist, Addisalem Hadgu, who had not seen his two daughters and his Eritrean wife in 18 years, was reunited with his family thanks to the thaw in relations.
“It was years of darkness. The separation and longing was unthinkable,” he said through tears on Thursday. “Imagine someone who just won a lottery. That is how I feel now.”
Mr. Addisalem lamented the long and bitter price paid by ordinary people on both sides of the conflict.
“This was unnecessary. I lost my family because of it. We all fought in it one way or another,” he said.
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