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Can Ethiopia and Eritrea finally find peace?

After years of hostility between the countries, Ethiopia’s new prime minister explains why he is willing to start talks.

The Horn of Africa is one of the most important strategic locations in the world. Control the area, and you control the Red Sea, critical for global trade connecting Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

But border disputes between regional arch-rivals Eritrea and Ethiopia – which have been running ever since Eritrea broke free from Ethiopia in 1991 – threaten the stability of the area.

Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia after a 30-year struggle that is considered to be among the continent’s longest and most bitter.

The animosity between the two sides frequently spills over into neighbouring countries like Somalia and Kenya.

No Ethiopian leader has held talks with Isaias Afewerki, the Eritrean president, since the end of their bitter border war in 2000, during which at least 70,000 people died.
That is, until now.

Hailemariam Desalegn, the new Ethiopian prime minister who has been in office for only three months, says he is willing to talk to the Eritrean president.

In an exclusive interview with Talk to Al Jazeera he explains: “If you ask me ‘Do you want to go to Asmara [the Eritrean capital] and sit down and negotiate with Isaias Afewerki?’, then I will say ‘yes’.”

When asked if there was a real opportunity to forge closer links between the two countries following the death of Meles Zenawi, the former Ethiopian prime minister, in August, Desalegn answered: “My predecessor Meles Zenawi had asked for more than 50 times even to go to Asmara and to negotiate with Isaias Afewerki.

“The most important thing for us is fighting poverty. The most important thing for us is having regional integration. If we two, we do that, it will be much more productive.”

Desalegn also talks about how he plans to move Ethiopia and the region forward.

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