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Ethiopia, Eritrea start people-to-people relations as thaw deepens

Ethiopians from the Tigray State visit the Eritrean border town of Adi Quala

Ethiopia, Eritrea start people-to-people relations as thaw deepens

By Xinhua

East Africa's two long-time rivals, Ethiopia and Eritrea, are mulling steps to strengthen cultural and people-to-people links between the two countries.

A cultural symposium held on Friday here brought together 500 participants drawn from both countries, including senior government officials from both countries, who discussed various issues that include ways to enhance the cultural and linguistic ties as well as the need for cultural collaboration between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Ethiopian Minister of Culture and Tourism Fozia Amin said during the symposium that cultural events are vital to advance the people-to-people ties between the two friendly nations.

The move to deepen ties between the two countries through people-to-people relations followed recent momentous culmination of the end of the state of war between the two neighbors.

After 20 years of hostility, Ethiopia and Eritrea resumed diplomatic relations last month. On July 8, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a landmark visit to the Red Sea nation and a week after, Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki paid a visit to Ethiopia.

The two countries had fought a bloody two-year border war from 1998-2000, that killed an estimated 70,000 people from both sides. The war was ended by a December 2000 Algiers peace agreement, but it left the two countries in a state of bitter armed standoff.

Amid the easing tensions, telecom services between the two countries have resumed, embassies resumed diplomatic relations, and agreements were made to strengthen economic ties. The two countries' flag carriers - Ethiopian Airlines and Eritrean Airlines - have also started flights to Asmara and Addis Ababa respectively.

The two countries, in another bid to augment their growing ties, also agreed on Friday last week to increase the movement and amount of bilateral trade through Eritrea's port city of Assab to Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

The decision to construct a pipeline linking Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa and Eritrea's port has been also unveiled by the Ethiopian government and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which would allow landlocked Ethiopia to export crude oil via Eritrean port as Ethiopia recently commenced petroleum test extraction from the Somali Regional State in June this year.

According to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the implementation of the agreement between the two countries will advance and speed up efforts on both sides to forge close political, social and people-to-people links as well as security cooperation.

"There is still a huge opportunity to explore in terms of further opening up new venues of cooperation and partnership between Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as facilitating the process of economic integration in the region," the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Recent positive developments in the Ethiopia-Eritrea relations were also praised by the international community.

The outgoing UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative and UN Humanitarian Coordinator to Ethiopia Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie said the move between the two countries demonstrated the commitment of leadership.

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