ADDIS ABABA, October 30 (Reuters) – Rebel Tigrayan forces said on Saturday that they had captured the strategic city of Dessie in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, where tens of thousands of ethnic Amharas have sought refuge from an escalation of fighting, but the government has denied this.
The fighters pushed Ethiopian government forces from Dessie and were on their way to the town of Kombolcha, Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters via satellite phone from an unpublished location.
He said Tigrayan forces had captured several Ethiopian soldiers.
Legesse Tulu, a government spokesman, told Reuters in a text message that the city was still under Ethiopian government control, saying allegations by Tigrayan forces were “fabricated propaganda”.
Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane referred Reuters to the federal government. Amhara spokesman Gizachew Muluneh, the mayor of Dessie and a spokesman for the city did not respond to requests for comment.
Reuters could not independently verify the account from both sides as the phone lines in Dessie appeared to be down from Saturday afternoon.
The capture of Dessie would be a strategic gain for the Tigrayan fighters against the central government forces who are trying to expel them from the Amhara region.
The major city is located about 385 km (240 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa and is the southernmost in Amhara that the TPLF has reached since it penetrated the region in July.
A school principal in Dessie said he saw Ethiopian soldiers withdraw from the city on Saturday morning towards Kombolcha and that the power across the city had been off since Friday.
Another resident of Dessie also said the city had no power and that the federal army had been raised. Both said they had heard Tigrayan warriors were in town but had not seen them. Both residents spoke on condition of anonymity.
War broke out almost a year ago between federal troops and the TPLF. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million people have been forced to flee.
Tigrayan forces were initially repulsed, but recaptured most of the region in July and penetrated the nearby Amhara and Afar regions.
In mid-October, Tigrayan forces said the military had launched a ground offensive to push them out of Amhara. The military said on Thursday that there were fierce fighting there, but accused the Tigrayan forces of starting it.
Reporting by Addis Ababa editorial staff Editing by Mark Heinrich, Alison Williams and Frances Kerry
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