UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has begun searching for a new envoy to Libya, diplomatic sources said Wednesday, after the United States refused to endorse the previous candidate.

Former Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra seemed to be all but confirmed in early March. But the US increasingly posed "questions" about his candidacy, even though "everyone else" supported him, a diplomat said.

Wednesday, during a closed-door meeting on Libya, a UN official told the Security Council that Guterres had launched a search for a new candidate, another source said.

Guterres "is working hard to make a proposal," the source said on condition of anonymity.

The US mission to the UN gave no further explanation for opposing Lamamra, 67, who served as Algeria's foreign minister from 2013 to 2017 and as African Union commissioner for peace and security from 2008 to 2013.

He is considered an experienced diplomat and has been a mediator in several African conflicts, notably in Liberia.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "working hard" to find a new candidate to be the envoy to Libya, a diplomat said
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "working hard" to find a new candidate to be the envoy to Libya, a diplomat said AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI

Among the reasons proposed by some diplomats was the pressure on Washington from Egypt and the UAE, who back strongman Khalifa Haftar and considered Lamamra to be too close to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord.

A fourth source suggested that Washington could have considered Lamamra as too close to Russia, which is accused of sending mercenaries to support Haftar, an accusation that Moscow denies.

The United Nations' previous envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, quit in early March following the repeated failure of efforts to restore order, although he said his resignation was for health reasons. He had served in the role since June 2017.

Guterres is also still looking for a new envoy for the Western Sahara conflict. The post has been vacant since May 2017 after the previous envoy, former German president Horst Kohler, 76, resigned, also for health reasons.

In February, Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak, who once served as the president of the UN General Assembly, appeared tipped to become the next Sahara envoy.

But the European Union snagged him at the last minute and appointed him the envoy for the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

There is currently "nothing new" on a next potential candidate. "We are waiting," a diplomat told AFP.