Saturday 23 March 2019

Ethiopia and Eritrea sign peace agreement after decades of war

The east African nations reached the deal which was brokered by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi King Salman, centre, receives Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki, left, and Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, right, in Jeddah (AP)
Saudi King Salman, centre, receives Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki, left, and Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, right, in Jeddah (AP)

By Jon Gambrell

Leaders from Ethiopia and Eritrea have signed a “peace agreement” during a summit in Saudi Arabia, yet another sign of warming ties between two nations that have face decades of war and unease.

Terms of the agreement signed by Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki were not immediately clear.

Saudi authorities did not respond to specific questions about the accord, which earlier had been described as being a further endorsement of a historic deal reached between the two nations in July.

“The peace deal resulted in restoration of normal relations between the countries, on the basis of the close bonds of geography, history and culture between the two nations and their peoples,” Saudi Arabia said in a statement on Sunday, calling the accord the Jeddah Agreement.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia praised the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea for exercising leadership and courage to restore the brotherly relations between the two countries, thus forming the foundation for a new phase that will bring significant developments in the relations between the two nations in all fields,” the statement added.

Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki signs a peace accord (AP)

Saudi King Salman and his assertive 33-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were on hand for the summit in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Also attending was Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres.

The Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders also were awarded for their efforts the Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal, the kingdom’s highest civilian honour.

Mr Abiy and Mr Isaias signed a joint declaration of peace and friendship on July 9, ending 20 years of enmity and formally restoring diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Landlocked Ethiopia fought a bloody war with Eritrea from 1998 to 2000 over a border dispute that killed tens of thousands of people.

Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed signs the deal (AP)

The conflict ended in an uneasy peace with Eritrea, which earlier fought a decades-long war of independence from Ethiopia.

Yet that suddenly changed with the election of Mr Abiy as prime minister in April.

A whirlwind of talks suddenly ended the long conflict between the two nations in July, with telephone calls and flights suddenly possible between the two nations.

It was particularly surprising for Eritrea, a closed-off nation of five million people ruled by Mr Isaias since 1993.

Eritrea’s system of compulsory conscription that led thousands of Eritreans to flee towards Europe, Israel and elsewhere.

Ethiopia is home to 105 million people.

The signing ceremony on Sunday in Saudi Arabia also served as a nod to the growing importance Gulf Arab nations put on East Africa amid the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The United Arab Emirates, also believed to have played a part in talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea, has been building up a military presence in the Eritrean port city of Assab.

The strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which sits off Eritrea and neighbouring Djibouti, links the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with the Gulf of Aden and ultimately the Indian Ocean.

Dozens of commercial ships daily transit the route, some 10 miles wide at its narrowest point.

Press Association

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