UN envoy for Libya rejects claims of bias

Bernardino Leon caught in row over move to take up lucrative job in UAE, which backs Tripoli-based government’s rivals.

The UN’s outgoing chief negotiator for Libya has defended himself against claims of bias as he prepares to leave his position to go work in the United Arab Emirates.

Bernardino Leon, a Spanish diplomat, spent just over a year trying to bring about a power-sharing agreement between Libya’s two rival governments.

But at the same time he was negotiating a high-paying job with the UAE, a Gulf Arab state which backs the internationally recognised government based in Tobruk, in eastern Libya.

Libya has had rival administrations since August 2014, when an alliance of armed groups from the city of Misrata known as Libya Dawn took over the capital, Tripoli.

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The group drove out the internationally recognised government, which now operates from Tobruk.

The Libya Dawn-backed administration in Tripoli condemned Leon’s decision, saying it revealed bias in favour of the Tobruk government.

It demanded an explanation from Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, in a letter.

The letter says Leon’s hiring by the Emirates Diplomatic Academy (EDA), a state-backed think-tank, casts doubt on his credibility.

It also says the development “threatens to destroy the political track during this sensitive time”.

Leon last month announced a proposed national unity government, and he told the UN Security Council on Thursday that members of both governments’ parliaments have signed letters “stating clearly their determination to endorse” it.

He urged both governments to quickly convene sessions to vote.

Responding to a question by Al Jazeera about whether his decision to accept a job in the UAE represented a conflict of interest, Leon acknowledged that it did not have good “optics”.

“If the optics of what happened are not the correct one, here I am very humbly to say maybe I could have done things in a different way,” he said.

Criticised by both sides

Stephane Dujarric, UN spokesman, said that Leon’s work as a diplomat “speaks for itself”.

“Throughout this process he has been criticised strongly by one side or another,” he said.

EDA announced on Wednesday that Leon would become its first director-general in December.

“The deep experience and understanding of global geopolitics that Mr Leon brings to EDA will be a rich resource for our new generation of diplomats,” Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE minister of foreign affairs and chairman of the EDA’s board of trustees, said.

Libya has had rival administrations based in Tripoli and Tobruk since August 2014 [Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters]Libya has had rival administrations based in Tripoli and Tobruk since August 2014 [Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters]

The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday quoted an email from Leon to the UAE foreign minister saying he had a strategy to “completely delegitimise” the Tripoli government.


The newspaper said the email came from Leon’s personal account five months after he was appointed envoy.

Libya’s ambassador to the UN told the council that the formation of a national unity government “is imminent, perhaps before the end of this month”.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, the Libyan ambassador, gave no details.

It is not clear how many more days Leon will remain in his post.

On Wednesday, the UN announced it had appointed Martin Kobler, a German diplomat, to be its new Libya envoy.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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