Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister, has said that he is willing to hold talks with neighbouring Eritrea, with whom Addis Ababa fought a border war that ended in 2000.
If Desalgen follows through with Wednesday’s statement, it will be the first time a leader in Addis Ababa has held talks with Issaias Afeworki, the Eritrean president, since the end of the conflict which left at least 70,000 people dead.
“If you ask me, ‘Do you want to go to Asmara and sit down and negotiate with Isaias Afwerki?’ Then, I will say yes’,” Hailemariam said in an interview with Al Jazeera to be broadcast on Saturday.
The two countries remain at odds over the flashpoint town of Badme, awarded to Eritrea by a UN-backed boundary commission, but still controlled by Ethiopia.
“The most important thing for us is to fight poverty … to have regional integration. If we two do that, it will be much more productive,” Hailemariam added.
Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year struggle, that is considered among the continent’s longest and most bitter.
Hailemariam, who took office after longtime ruler Meles Zenawi died in August, said that reaching out to Asmara was following the policy of his predecessor.
“My predecessor Meles Zenawi had asked for more than 50 times even to go to Asmara and negotiate with Mister Isaias Afwerki,” he said.
Ethiopia and Eritrea routinely accuse each other of backing armed groups to destabilise the other.
In March, Ethiopia attacked an Eritrean military base after the killing of five European tourists it blamed on Asmara.