In this video grab provided by ERITV, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, background centre, is welcomed by Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki after he disembarked from an aircraft in Asmara, Eritrea yesterday.
ADDIS ABABA: With laughter and hugs, the leaders of long-time rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea met for the first time in nearly two decades yesterday amid a rapid and dramatic diplomatic thaw aimed at ending one of Africa’s longest-running ­conflicts.

Ethiopia’s reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea’s capital, and a live broadcast by Eritrean state television showed President Isaias Afwerki greeting him at the airport in scenes unthinkable just months ago. “A brotherly embrace,” Eritrea’s information minister said on Twitter.

Crowds danced and sang for the leaders, and Asmara’s streets were hung with Ethiopian and Eritrean flags. Abiy and Afwerki travelled across the capital in a large motorcade as people wearing T-shirts with their photos cheered. The leaders then met one-on-one, with a smiling Abiy leaning towards Afwerki under a wall hung with their portraits.

The visit comes a month after Abiy surprised people by fully accepting a peace deal that ended a border war between the two East African nations that killed tens of thousands.

Ethiopia and Eritrea have not had diplomatic ties since the war began in 1998. While Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous nation and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, tiny Eritrea is one of the world’s most closed-off nations, ruled by Afwerki since gaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after years of rebel warfare. But they share close cultural ties. - AP