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Ethiopian airliner lands in one-time enemy neighbor Eritrea

Benita van Eyssen
July 18, 2018

The skies over Ethiopia and Eritrea opened to a first commercial passenger flight in two decades, giving tailwind to the peace process between the neighbors that severed ties in a border war.

A woman in a white dress and scarf is standing in the aisle of a passenger plane with a glass in her hand, chatting to two men.
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Tedese

"The bird of peace has just flown to #Asmara!” Ethiopian Airlines tweeted on Wednesday. That bird was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner carrying 456 passengers on the first direct commercial flight to Eritrea in since the start of a border war between the neighbors more than 20 years ago.

Flight attendants served sparkling wine and handed roses to those on board. Ethiopia's former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and his wife Roman, ambassadors and representatives of business, civil society and the media were among them.

Relatives of families who were split during the war between the two countries were also on Flight ET0312.

The passenger jet took off from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa after an official ceremony to mark the occasion. During the 90-minute flight, passengers and crew chatted and took selfies before the plane touched down at Asmara International Airport in the Eritrean capital to a red carpet welcome.

A crowd of people line the tarmac at Asmara International Airport as an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 taxis down the runway
The first Ethiopian commercial flight to land in Asmara in 20 years marks another step in a heady peace process

Eritrea's Foreign Minister Osman Saleh welcomed the passengers as they disembarked. Scores of dignitaries lined the tarmac as the plane taxied to a stop. 

"Without Ethiopian Airlines, peace with Eritrea today would not be complete. Our first step to reform with Eritrea has begun with Ethiopian Airlines,” said Hailemariam.

Commercial air traffic between Ethiopia and Eritrea was halted at the height of hostilities, including air raids, during the 1998-2000 war.

The stand-off in the Horn of Africa was to rumble on until Hailemariam's successor, Prime Minister Abey Ahmed, came to office in April and sought peace andEthiopia, Eritrea officially end war.

Pilot Yoseph Hailu standing next to an Ethiopian Airlines poster with its logo "The New Spirit of Africa" and the destination of his flight – Asmara
Captain Yoseph Hailu piloted the first post-war Ethiopia to Eritrea commercial flight Image: Reuters/T. Negeri

The two sides have been moving towards normalizing relations with high-level visits in both Addis Ababa and Asmara. At the weekend, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki made a visit to the Ethiopian capital 

Afwerki and his delegation arrived in a large unmarked white jet. The officials he dispatched at the start of peace talks last month arrived in an Emirates aircraft.

The Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian Airlines Group is Africa's largest airline. It flies to 70 cities and owns stakes in Malawi's national carrier and Asky Airlines in Togo.

Azeb-Tadesse Hahn contributed to this report

Benita van Eyssen is a digital content planner, producer and editor@benita_v_eyssen
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