Eritrea’s national airline has made its first commercial flight in two decades to Addis Ababa, the capital of neighboring Ethiopia, the latest step in a surprise peace process between the former foes that began just two months ago.
An Eritrean Airlines plane carrying the country’s transport and tourism ministers on Saturday landed at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, where it was welcomed by senior Ethiopian officials.
Ethiopia’s own flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, had made its first commercial flight in the other direction, landing in Asmara International Airport on July 18.
Once a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea seceded in 1993 after a long independence struggle. A row over the demarcation of the shared border triggered a brutal 1998-2000 conflict that left 80,000 people dead before evolving into a bitter cold war.
But in a surprise move in June, Ethiopia’s new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced he would finally accept a 2002 United Nations-backed border demarcation, paving the way for peace between the two nations.
He then paid a historic visit to Eritrea, during which he and President Isaias Afwerki declared an official end to the war. Afwerki reciprocated with a state visit to Ethiopia just days later.
Embassies have since been reopened and phone lines between the two countries have also been restored.
Eritrean Airlines currently has only one leased airplane.
“The new route will expand existing regional flights of the airline to Cairo, Khartoum, Jeddah and Dubai,” Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Gebre Meskel said on Twitter.
Last month, Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam revealed his state-owned company was in talks to buy a stake in Eritrean Airlines as part of efforts to boost commercial ties between the two countries, which were once each others’ biggest trading partners.
Ethiopia’s flag carrier is the most profitable in Africa and in recent years has been buying shares in other African airlines.