The leader of Ethiopia’s rebellious northern forces said on Monday he was still fighting close to the regional capital of Mekelle after it was captured by government troops following nearly a month of battles and airstrikes.
The war in the Tigray region has killed hundreds and probably thousands sent refugees into Sudan, enmeshed Eritrea, impacted a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and heightened frictions between Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups.
In a text message to Reuters, Debretsion Gebremichael, who heads the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), denied reports that he had fled to South Sudan and said he was still resisting in Tigray.
“I’m close to Mekelle in Tigray fighting the invaders,” he said. Debretsion added that his soldiers had captured some Eritreans fighting alongside the Ethiopian federal forces.
Billene Seyoum, the spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, told Reuters that Debretsion should be ignored.
“The Federal government as a priority is busy governing a country and bringing stability to those affected. Tracking and responding to the many delusions of a disintegrating criminal clique that has become irrelevant is not our focus,” she told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from the Eritrean government, though at the start of the conflict it had denied involvement. The TPLF has fired a rocket at Eritrea’s capital Asmara.
Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to the Tigray region have been largely down and access tightly controlled since the war began on Nov. 4.