UNITED NATIONS/DUBAI - Veteran German diplomat Martin Kobler will take over mediating stalled Libya peace talks in the coming days, the United Nations said on Wednesday, replacing U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon.
Leon is set to head a United Arab Emirates (UAE) diplomatic academy, a role expected to involve training envoys of one of the Arab countries most involved in the Libyan crisis.
Britain's Guardian newspaper reported the Spanish diplomat was first offered the post in June, commenting that this called into question his impartiality as the U.N.'s chief peacemaker.
Leon denied any conflict of interest, it reported.
"The only defense I have against these attacks is my work," the Guardian quoted him as saying. "As I said before, read my proposals, the agreement and the government proposal. It has been considered by the Libyans from both camps as a fair proposal."
Turmoil on the ground
Libya has fallen into turmoil with its internationally-recognized government and elected parliament on one side and a self-styled administration holding Tripoli on the other, each backed by regional, tribal or Islamist armed factions.
The UAE, along with Egypt, backs the internationally-recognized government led by Abdullah al-Thinni which is operating in the east.
In Libya, the Tripoli faction, and other critics of the United Nations handling of talks will see Leon's appointment by the UAE as evidence the envoy was biased in negotiations meant to settle the conflict.
U.S. officials said last year the UAE and Egypt staged airstrikes against Libyan Islamists, though Egypt publicly denied conducting the air raids and a senior UAE official suggested the allegations had been promoted by anti-UAE Islamists.
The U.N. Security Council last Friday approved Kobler's appointment as head of the U.N. political mission in Libya. Leon is due to give his final briefing to the council on Thursday.
"The leadership transition will take place in the coming days," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement, adding that he was "grateful for [Leon's] dedicated service and effective leadership."
Kobler, a German career diplomat, most recently headed the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and was also the U.N. special envoy to Iraq and deputy U.N. representative in Afghanistan.
After months of negotiations, Leon has presented Libya's rival factions with a proposed national unity government, but hard-liners on both sides have resisted power-sharing and talks are at a standstill.
In the four years since the fall of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, chaos has allowed Islamic State militants to gain a foothold in the country.
Possible conflict of interest debated
Emirates Diplomatic Academy said on Wednesday that Leon will become director-general in December. The academy's board of trustees is chaired by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan and trains future diplomats.
Sheikh Abdullah said Leon's "deep experience and understanding of global geopolitics" would be a "rich resource for our new generation of diplomats."
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, asked if Leon accepting the post could constitute a conflict of interest, told reporters that Leon's record as a diplomat "speaks for itself."
"I'm sure he will make a terrific teacher of diplomacy," Dujarric said.
The Guardian said the U.N. guidance on effective mediation says mediators should "not accept conditions for support from external actors that would affect the impartiality of the process" and that they should "hand over to another mediator, or mediating entity, if they feel unable to maintain a balanced and impartial approach".