Ethiopia's Tigray forces' leader denies regional capital circled

FILE PHOTO: Debretsion Gebremichael, Tigray Regional President, attends the funeral ceremony of Ethiopia's Army Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen in Mekele, Tigray Region, Ethiopia June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) denied on Monday that federal troops had surrounded the regional capital Mekelle at a distance of about 50 km (31) as the government had said.

“There is no such encirclement so far,” Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters by text of the statements from a spokesman for a special Tigray taskforce set up by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.

Reuters could not independently verify either version.

Claims by all sides are hard to confirm because phone and internet communication has been down while media are largely barred from the region in north Ethiopia.

Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Catherine Evans