The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea have officially opened the border where a bloody war divided them for decades, with emotional residents embracing after years of separation.
Taking the next step in a dramatic diplomatic thaw, Ethiopia later announced that troops on both sides would withdraw.
Ethiopia’s reformist new prime minister Abiy Ahmed and long-time Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki “marked the radical transformation of the Ethio-Eritrea border into a frontier of peace & friendship”, Mr Abiy’s chief of staff Fitsum Arega said in a Twitter post.
The leaders visited the Bure Front with members of their militaries to mark the Ethiopian new year and later did the same at the Serha-Zalambesa crossing, Eritrean information minister Yemane Meskel.
Photos showed Mr Abiy in camouflage gear walking alongside Mr Isaias in olive drab, while a ribbon stretched across one border post bristled with military personnel carrying not guns but cameras.
Hundreds of civilians waved flags, and people of the countries’ Tigray region, who share close cultural ties, danced while flag-draped camels wandered by.
In comments carried by the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate, Mr Abiy announced: “To ease the tense atmosphere that existed in border areas, Ethiopian Defence Forces will return to various camps to recover and obtain additional training. The same will be done on the Eritrean side. Until then, soldiers will assist local farmers and shift to development activities.”
The former bitter rivals have made a stunning reconciliation since Mr Abiy – weeks after taking office in April – announced that Ethiopia would fully embrace a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war that killed tens of thousands.
At the time, he said the countries would celebrate the Ethiopian new year together: “We want our brothers and sisters to come here and visit us as soon as possible.”
Embassies have reopened, telephone lines have been restored and commercial flights between the capitals have resumed as some long-separated families have held tearful reunions.
Landlocked Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, and Eritrea, one of the world’s most closed-off nations, also plan development co-operation around Eritrea’s Red Sea ports in particular.