(Bloomberg) --

Libya’s military will continue its offensive against an eastern strongman backed by Russia until it retakes two strategic cities and prevents Russia from establishing a base in the country, Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told Bloomberg on Sunday, a day after the strongman declared a cease-fire.

Upon retaking the city of Sirte and the Juffra base, Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli will be open to entering into political talks with the strongman, Khalifa Haftar, Bashagha said. Haftar yesterday announced in Cairo that he was ceasing his year-long offensive aiming to take the capital, and would be seeking a political process to resolve the war.

Sirte, on the western tip of the Haftar-controlled oil crescent, has a symbolic value for the central government because an American-led coalition helped its forces defeat the Islamic State there in 2016, Bashagha said.

“There will be political negotiations with the east, but we must take Sirte and Juffra,” he said. “We need to prevent Russia from setting up bases in Sirte and Juffra.”

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