Ethiopia, Eritrea leaders celebrate peace and new year at border where war raged

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki visited their troops stationed at Bure. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Ethiopia, Eritrea leaders celebrate peace and new year at border where war raged

  • Eritrea reopened its embassy in Ethiopia in July, and Ethiopia reciprocated last week
  • Eritrea has agreed to open up its ports to its landlocked neighbor and last week announced plans to upgrade a road between them

NAIROBI: Two land border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea were reopened Tuesday for the first time in 20 years, crowning a rapid reconciliation between the former bitter enemies.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki attended ceremonies at the eastern and western ends of the border, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebre Meskel said on Twitter.
Fitsum Arega, Abiy's chief of staff, said: "Road links between Ethiopia and Eritrea will be operational, opening the gate for cross border movement of people and goods."
On Tuesday -- a national holiday to mark the Ethiopian New Year -- Abiy and Isaias, dressed in military fatigues, paid a joint visit to the disputed eastern border zone that both countries have claimed.
Soldiers lined the red-carpeted road to mark its reopening and crowds cheered and hugged each other.
The visit was "to celebrate the New Year with members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Defence Forces following the full normalisation of the relations between the two countries," Abiy's chief of staff added.
The eastern border post between Bure in Ethiopia and Debay Sima in Eritrea, and the western border post between Zalambessa and Serha, were among those closed in 1998 as the neighbouring Horn of Africa nations cut diplomatic ties at the outbreak of a short but bloody two-year frontier battle.
An ensuing cold war stymied development and trade, and undermined regional security, but in a surprise move earlier this year, Abiy began peace overtures, which were welcomed by Eritrea.
Key to this was Abiy's acceptance in June of a UN-backed court ruling in 2002 demarcating the contested border and handing back some occupied territory to Eritrea, including the disputed town of Badme.
At Zalambessa, soldiers manning the crossing on a rough road that cuts through the shared no man's land together dismantled piles of sandbags while a red carpet was rolled over potholes and flags were raised for the border's ceremonial reopening.
A live broadcast on Ethiopian state television showed a large cheering crowd celebrating the reopening of the road with soldiers and civilians from both countries dancing together and greeting one another.
Neither leader spoke at the event, which was instead addressed by Debretsion Gebremichael, president of the Tigray region on the Ethiopian side of the border.
"By partnering in place of disintegration, by helping each other at the expense of sabotaging each other, we can move forward," he said.
"The bell for peace and development has rung waiting for us to be a model of peace, brotherhood and partnership in the coming years."
The once-bustling commercial town, on what was the main highway between Addis Ababa and Asmara, was all but levelled during the 1998-2000 border war that killed about 80,000 people. Despite being rebuilt, Zalambessa was rendered a ghost town by the closing of the border.
The reopening of crossings is about more than symbolism.
Booming but landlocked Ethiopia is eager to secure access to Eritrea's Red Sea coast for its imports and exports, while Eritrea's stunted economy will benefit from increasing regional commerce.
The route through Bure-Debay Sima leads to the port at Assab, while the road via Zalambessa-Serha reaches Massawa on the Red Sea coast.
Tuesday's ceremonies were just the latest steps in a rapid diplomatic thaw that has seen Ethiopia and Eritrea restore air links, telephone lines and trade routes, and re-establish diplomatic missions.
Once a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea fought a long independence war, eventually seceding in 1993, but five years later conflict broke out again.
Hardliners on both sides -- including Isaias, Eritrea's first and only president -- ensured that neither side backed down over the border dispute.
Each nation has supported the other's rebels and the long cold war periodically erupted in fighting.
Isaias used the threat of attacks by its much larger southern neighbour to institute a from of perpetual national service that the UN has compared to slavery.
Repression at home drove Eritreans to flee, many of them making the long and perilous journey to Europe.


‘Don’t cry’: Celebration trumps pain at funeral for New Zealand terror attack victim

Updated 11 min 43 sec ago
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‘Don’t cry’: Celebration trumps pain at funeral for New Zealand terror attack victim

  • Nabi was the man who unknowingly opened the door to his killer at the city’s Al Noor mosque, reportedly welcoming him with the words “Hello Brother”
  • That was the memory those laying him to rest wanted to broadcast on Thursday

CHRISTCHURCH: Heads bowed, their hair covered by black headscarves, female family members of Mohemmed Daoud Nabi gently wept as they approached his body until a fellow mourner called out “Don’t cry.”
It was a refrain heard repeatedly throughout the short, emotional funeral for 71-year-old Nabi, one of 50 people slain by a white supremacist gunman in Christchurch last Friday during a live broadcast rampage that caused global revulsion.
Those bidding farewell to the septuagenarian were determined to send out a message. This was a day of celebration, not of loss.
Nabi was the man who unknowingly opened the door to his killer at the city’s Al Noor mosque, reportedly welcoming him with the words “Hello Brother.”
And that was the memory those laying him to rest wanted to broadcast on Thursday.
Huddled together under a marquee on a grey and blustery day, Nabi’s sons recited prayers in Dari and Arabic as the former head of their family lay in a wooden casket at their feet.
“Those who live abroad and die or killed there will go to paradise,” one of the sons said, a reference to Nabi’s journey two decades before from war-torn Afghanistan to his adopted homeland New Zealand.
“He was killed in a mosque in a house of God. He was a true servant. He was a pious person,” he added.
After prayers mourners carefully lifted the casket aloft and carried Nabi toward the newly dug grave at Memorial Park Cemetery, one of dozens for victims of the massacre.
Those gathered were a reflection of the breadth of the community affected by Friday’s massacre, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, bikers, refugees, young families — all touched by Nabi and the warmth he showed.
Some held placards advocating peace and tolerance. Some sported those now two ubiquitous words: “Hello Brother.”
As Nabi’s body, wrapped in white cloth, neared the grave, quietness descended over the crowd. Family and close friends then gathered to pour earth from plastic buckets into the open casket.
Stretching out across the cemetery were row upon row of empty graves still waiting to be filled in the coming days.
It was a stark reminder of the sheer scale of the killings, 50 dead among a small, tight-knit community in a town with a population of some 350,000 people.
Yet the mood in the compound remained joyous and steered away from despair.
Heavily tattooed biker gang members mingled with men wearing Afghan dress, non-Muslims and smartly dressed community leaders, embracing, sharing memories and stories.
A long line of mourners took turns to hug Nabi’s sons.
“I’m happy because he went straight to Jannah (paradise),” Omar Nabi said. “The gunman didn’t even know he opened the gates to heaven for my dad.
“He is laughing at him and smiling at us... Have you ever congratulated anybody for a death? This is the time and this is the place. Don’t cry. Don’t be sad. Congratulations. Your father made it to heaven.”