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Ethiopia’s commercial ship docks in Eritrea after two decades

After a thorough peace deal facilitating rapid cooperation, an Ethiopian commercial ship has docked in an Eritrean port for the first time in two decades.

This is a concrete sign of a stunning rapprochement between the neighbours and former foes.

The Mekelle entered the Red Sea port of Massawa and was due to carry 11,000 tonnes of Eritrean zinc to China, Ethiopian broadcaster Fana Broadcasting reported.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, offered to make peace with Eritrea after taking office in April – part of a series of reforms that has turned politics on its head in his country and the region.

Landlocked Ethiopia has said it wants to make the re-opening of two roads connecting it to two of Eritrea’s ports a priority in the reconciliation process.

Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Ghebremeskel, said on Twitter that Abiy had arrived in Eritrea on a two-day working visit. The premier would visit Massawa and the capital Asmara, he added.

Abiy first visited Eritrea in July as the countries agreed to end a two-decade-old military standoff over their border and other issues.

Eritrea had during the peace deal promised  to ready the port of Massawa to serve Ethiopia’s import and export traffic.

Eritrea had denied landlocked Ethiopia access to the port on the outbreak of hostilities twenty years ago.

The head of the Massawa Port Administration, Layne Asfahaley, told Ethiopia’s state news agency on Tuesday that the port has gone through major renovation works to enable it provide services to iEritrea’s former foe with which full diplomatic relations have been restored in the last one month.

The use of Eritrea’s port by Ethiopia would be the first landmark economic cooperation since the two horn of Africa nations officially declared an end to two decades of enmity due to a border dispute.

Founded in the 19th century and initially developed by the Italian and British colonial authorities in the region, the Port of Massawa is the primary port for the trafficking of goods and services to the Eritrean markets.

The port was also a major gateway for Ethiopian trade until the border war that broke out between the two countries in 1998.

Since then, Ethiopia without direct access to the sea has been primarily using the port of Djibouti for access to the international market.

95 per cent of Ethiopia’s imports and exports have been transacted through the port of Djibouti over the past twenty years.

However, the recent rapprochement between Addis Ababa and Asmara has led the way for the re-establishment of ties including port services, and transportation, among others.

The port is equipped with the necessary facilities and skilled labour and is ready to restart its service for Ethiopia’s import-export commodities shortly, the head Eritrea Port Administration said.

“We outfitted and refurbished the port facilities to the very interest of Ethiopia’s import-export commodities and we are considering further expansion following the vast demand in the region” he added.

Solomon Afewerk, a former President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association (ECCSA), said there is a huge opportunity for both countries to be economically inter-reliant.

“The use of the Port of Massawa can pave the way for further cooperation and mutual benefit of the two neighbouring countries, but subsequent to the demand from Ethiopia, there should be expansion and development of the port to accommodate the vast flow of import-export freights” he added

Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders have also reopened Ethiopia’s embassy in the Eritrean capital Asmara.

Since signing an agreement in Asmara on July 9 to restore ties, Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders have moved swiftly to sweep away two decades of hostility since conflict erupted between the two neighbours in the Horn of Africa in 1998.

The two countries resumed transport, trade and telecommunication ties.