Ethiopia accepts peace deal with longtime rival Eritrea

Ethiopia has announced it will fully accept the terms of a peace agreement with neighbouring Eritrea, its decades-long rival.

Government calls on Eritrea to do the same to end decades-long border war

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April on a promise of major reforms. His government announced Tuesday it would fully accept a 2000 peace deal with Eritrea. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

Ethiopia will fully accept the terms of a peace agreement with Eritrea that was signed in 2000, its ruling coalition announced on Tuesday. 

The East African neighbours have remained at odds since a 1998-2000 war over a disputed town that a boundary commission subsequently handed to Eritrea. 

Eritrea has long felt betrayed by world powers, who they say failed to force Ethiopia to abide by the boundary arbitration ruling. Ethiopia long said it wanted talks on implementation, which Eritrea refused.

The development Tuesday night came as the government also announced that Ethiopia, one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, will open up parts of state-owned enterprises to private investment in sectors such as energy, aviation and telecoms. 

The news came just hours after Ethiopia lifted a state of emergency in what had been the most dramatic reform yet under new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has promised change after more than two years of deadly anti-government protests demanding greater freedoms in Africa's second most populous country. 

But it is the prospect of peace with reclusive Eritrea that has come as the latest, and largest, surprise. 

The agreement signed in 2000 ended a two-year border war that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, but a "no peace no war" situation continued, with the two countries skirmishing from time to time. Ethiopia had refused to accept the deal's handing of key locations, including Badme, to Eritrea and continues to control that town. 

Ethiopia's ruling party now accepts that agreement without conditions and calls on Eritrea's government to do the same, the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported. 

"The suffering on both sides is unspeakable because the peace process is deadlocked. This must change for the sake of our common good," the chief of staff for the prime minister's office, Fitsum Arega, said on Twitter.

Eritrean officials in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, could not immediately be reached for comment, and Eritrea's information ministry had posted nothing on the development. 

Tiny Eritrea is one of the world's most reclusive nations, ruled since 1993 by President Isaias Afwerki. 

When the 42-year-old Abiy was installed as Ethiopia's prime minister in April, his inaugural speech mentioned the need for reconciliation with bitter rival Eritrea, raising hopes of peace. 

"We are fully committed to reconcile with our Eritrean brothers and sisters and extend an invitation to the Eritrean government to start dialogue and establish rapport," he said in his address to parliament.

With files from Reuters