UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Libya's Islamist authorities said Thursday they are shocked to learn the U.N. envoy to their war-torn country has accepted a job from the United Arab Emirates, which backs their main political rival, the internationally recognized government.
The Islamist-backed government's statement demands an explanation from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Its letter to Ban, seen by The Associated Press, warns that the development "threatens to destroy the political track during this sensitive time."
The statement says Bernardino Leon's hiring to lead a state-backed think tank casts doubts on the U.N. envoy's credibility, especially when Libya's rival sides are being urged to endorse his proposals for a national unity government after months of talks.
The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday quoted an email from Leon to the UAE foreign minister saying he had a strategy to "completely delegitimize" the Islamist-backed government. The newspaper said the email came from Leon's personal account five months after he was appointed envoy.
Leon, a Spanish diplomat, told reporters Thursday that he sees no conflict of interest and that the proposed Libya peace agreement is unbiased.
"The appearances are not good," he acknowledged.
Oil-rich Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In its letter to Ban, the Islamist-backed government said Leon's hiring by the UAE, especially now, "constitutes a disregard to the lives and sacrifices that the Libyan people have offered" since the uprising.
Leon last month announced a proposed national unity government, and he told the U.N. 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.
Libya's ambassador to the United Nations told the council that the formation of a national unity government "is imminent, perhaps before the end of this month." Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi gave no details.
It is not clear how many more days Leon will remain in his post. On Wednesday, the U.N. announced it has appointed German diplomat Martin Kobler to be its new Libya envoy.
Ali Tekbali, an influential member of the internationally recognized government, said U.N. talks with the Islamist authorities will resume under Kobler's leadership at the end of this month.
Saad Abusharrada, a popular member of the Islamist-backed government who supports the talks, said the Leon developments likely will not hinder them, with many people simply wanting to move forward.
The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, replied to questions about the ethics of Leon's actions by saying the envoy's work spoke for itself.
Musa reported from Benghazi, Libya. Associated Press writer Nour Youssef in Cairo contributed.