By Louis Charbonneau and Tom Miles
UNITED NATIONS/GENEVA (Reuters) - Martin Kobler, a German United Nations official currently overseeing the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the top candidate to take over as head of the world body's mission to Libya, U.N. diplomats said.
If U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decides to appoint Kobler to head the mission in conflict-torn Libya, he would replace Bernardino Leon, who the diplomats said was expected to step down soon and may have political ambitions in his home country of Spain.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior U.N. Security Council diplomat said Kobler has made a good impression on council members because he is a "roll-up-your-sleeves" person, rather than seated behind a desk all day.
"Kobler ... is a strong candidate in every sense of the word," another Western diplomat told Reuters. "He has got lots of strengths - a strong personality, a strong character and a strong manager."
The diplomats said Ban has not made a decision yet.
The Libyan role is a difficult assignment. Four years after the ousting of late leader Muammar Gaddafi, militant groups allied to each of two rival administrations have brought the country's oil-dependent economy to its knees, and most of Libya is lawless and run by armed groups.
Kobler is no stranger to tough U.N. jobs. In addition to his work in Congo, he was the U.N. special envoy to Iraq and deputy U.N. representative in Afghanistan.
It is not clear when Leon will leave his post. He is currently pushing Libya's warring factions to form a unity government and will host a new round of talks with the parties in Morocco next week.
Diplomats said Leon wanted the Libyan factions to reach an agreement soon so they could sign a deal by Sept. 21. If it looks like they will remain deadlocked, Leon plans to present his own "final offer" to the parties around Sept. 10, the diplomats added.
While Leon is expected to step down in the coming weeks or months, the diplomats said he might remain in the post longer if a deal on a unity government emerges. Kobler has already announced his plans to leave the Congo post at the end of October.
Neither Kobler nor Leon's spokesman had immediate comment. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. would announce a decision once it was made. "Any names floating around prior to the official announcement is pure speculation," he said.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Bill Rigby)