Addis Ababa - Tilahun Masresha 79, is feeling young at heart despite his advanced age after he completed the first 10km Ethiopia-Eritrea friendship athletics race held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday.
The athletics event attended by both Ethiopian and Eritrean runners was the first sports event held in recognition of the rapid-paced diplomatic thaw since July between former enemies Ethiopia and Eritrea, after 20 years of mutual animosity.
All forms of contacts between Ethiopia and Eritrea including sports-related were cut at the beginning of the two countries bitter two-year border war from 1998-2000, which left an estimated 70,000 dead from both sides. Despite, a peace agreement signed in December 2000 in Algiers, Algeria, which ended the two-year border war, the two countries had been until June engaged in a state of armed standoff.
The deadlock was ended when Ethiopia's ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) on June 5, stated that it had completely accepted the outcomes of the Algiers peace agreement and two weeks later Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki announced that he had accepted the peace gesture.
Shortly after that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Afwerki visited each other’s countries in July, and the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea was formally re-opened on September 11.
The two countries have also restored their diplomatic missions, resumed air and trade links, and reestablished phone and postal services.
Masresha said as an Ethiopian he is happy to have participated in the Ethiopia-Eritrea friendship athletics race and has a special reason for participating in the run.
“I was stationed in Eritrea as a teacher between 1966 and 1972 and have fond memories of the Eritrean capital Asmara and other Eritrean cities. I will re-visit Eritrea soon,” Masresha, who came all the way from Dire Dawa city, 453km east of Addis Ababa to attend the sports event, told Xinhua.
“I never thought this day would arrive in my lifetime, I want to give my appreciation to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, for helping Ethiopia reconcile with Eritrea and I’m already preparing to participate in more athletics events that commemorate the diplomatic thaw,” he further said.
Wubishet Assefa, Vice Manager, JMS and Getsemani Travel Agency, the firm which organised the 10kms athletics race, said he is encouraged by the high turnout and the enthusiasm that he saw on Sunday's run and is already planning to hold more athletics events across other Ethiopian cities.
“We also have plans to organise similar athletics events in various Ethiopian cities in the coming weeks in a bid to deepen the diplomatic thaw between Ethiopia and Eritrea,” Assefa told journalists.
Nega Belay, a senior representative of the Eritrean community in Addis Ababa, who was a guest of honour at the Addis Ababa 10km Ethiopia-Eritrea friendship athletics race, said he is working with Eritrean authorities to organise a similar race in Asmara, Eritrea possibly by January 1, 2019.
“Today's athletics race was a run of two brotherly people, I hope in future times such kind of sports event continues between the two countries,” Belay told Xinhua. - Nampa/Xinhua