Commercial Plane Flies From Ethiopia To Eritrea For First Time In 20 Years

Jul 18, 2018

Ethiopia's "bird of peace" has landed.

After two decades of bloody conflict, Ethiopia and Eritrea have been repairing their relationship with remarkable speed following a peace deal reached last week. On Wednesday, a new milestone was marked — the first commercial flight between the neighboring countries in 20 years.

The historic flight included roses and champagne for passengers, Agence France-Presse reports. And demand was so high that Ethiopian Airlines followed the first flight with a second one just 15 minutes later, the news agency says.

The first flight was "greeted by dancers waving flags and flowers," Reuters reports.

Ethiopian Airlines celebrated the achievement in a tweet, adding the hashtag #familyreunion.

The captain, Yosef Hailu, told the BBC he was on "cloud nine."

Like many Ethiopians, he has friends in Eritrea, which seceded from Ethiopia in 1993.

"I'm going back to the place where I grew up," Hailu told the broadcaster. "I'm really happy."

Tens of thousands of people died in the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which began in 1998. For many years, the two countries in the Horn of Africa have been locked in a cold war that split families and friends apart.

Last week, telephone connections between the two countries were restored for the first time in 20 years.

As NPR's Eyder Peralta reported, people picked up the phone to call friends, family — and even strangers — to celebrate the return of peace:

"It took Selehadin Eshetu three days of dialing random numbers to connect with someone in Eritrea. On Wednesday, as he was getting dressed to go to work in Addis Ababa, someone picked up.

"Eshetu said hello; they said hello. The person asked, 'Who is this?'

"Eshetu said: "I am Selehadin and I am calling from Ethiopia. And I am calling randomly to say hi and to tell you how happy I am."

"Eshetu said he heard the same happiness from the voice at the other end of the line. He told Eshetu this was huge for him and he wanted this relationship to continue.

" 'And he said, 'I am going to save your number; I am going to call you regularly. We will be family,' Eshetu said."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.