Eritrea’s president in rare public comments has dismissed as “a fantasy” allegations that his country’s forces carried out rape, looting and other abuses in the war in neighboring Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

President Isaias Afwerki, the only leader Eritrea has known in its 30 years since independence, spoke to journalists Thursday during a visit to Kenya during which the two countries announced the expected return of the long-reclusive Eritrea to a regional organization addressing security and drought, according to AP.

Since the start of the two-year Tigray conflict that killed an estimated half-million civilians and ended with a peace agreement in November, the presence of Eritrean forces allied with Ethiopian ones was a major issue.

For months Ethiopia’s government denied that Eritrean forces were even in Tigray. But human rights groups and United Nations experts alleged they were responsible for many abuses against ethnic Tigrayans, such as gang rapes.

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