ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — With laughter and hugs, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea met on Sunday for the first time in nearly two decades amid a rapid and dramatic diplomatic thaw.
Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, arrived in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. A live broadcast by Eritrea’s state television showed him being greeted at the airport by President Isaias Afwerki — a scene unthinkable just months ago.
The two countries fought a war in the late 1990s in which about 80,000 people died.
On Sunday, crowds danced and sang for the leaders, and Asmara’s streets were hung with Ethiopian and Eritrean flags. Mr. Abiy and Mr. Afwerki traveled across Asmara in a large motorcade as people wearing T-shirts with photos of both leaders cheered.
The men later met one on one, with a smiling Mr. Abiy leaning toward Mr. Afwerki in front of a wall decorated with their portraits.
The visit comes a month after Mr. Abiy surprised people by fully accepting a 2000 peace deal that ended a two-year border war between the two countries.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have not had diplomatic ties since the war began in 1998, with Mr. Abiy himself fighting in a town that remains contested today. The countries have skirmished since then in one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.
Mr. Abiy’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, said on Twitter that the visit aimed to “further deepen efforts to bring about lasting peace.” He shared photos of the leaders’ meeting and said Mr. Abiy, 41, was “very warmly received” by the Mr. Afwerki, 72.
“Our two nations share a history and bond like no other,” he said. “We can now overcome two decades of mistrust and move in a new direction.”
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry called the visit “part of efforts to normalize relations with Eritrea” and said Mr. Abiy was expected to talk with Eritrea’s leadership about “how to mend fences.”