Leader of Country’s Oldest Union Replaced

A former garment worker was appointed on Sunday to replace Chea Mony as the head of the Free Trade Union, six years after Mr. Mony first announced his intention to step down and two decades after his late brother launched the country’s labor movement.

Touch Soeu, 53, was named the new president during the union’s annual congress, attended by about 560 activists from more than 100 factories across the country, according to Mr. Mony.

“Ms. Touch Soeu was automatically selected as the new president because she was the only candidate to apply,” he said.

Mr. Mony, 52, took over as head of the union in 2004 after the assassination of his brother, Chea Vichea, a charismatic lead-er whose shoes have proven difficult to fill.

While the FTU continues to be one of the country’s largest and most prominent unions, Mr. Mo­ny has for years said he did not have the energy to run the organization and has been accused by former deputies of corruption.

He also served as president well beyond the six years allowed in the party bylaws, ostensibly due to petitions and pleas from workers asking him to stay. But Mr. Mony said on Sunday that it was time to move on.

“Now I am tired, so I am giving the chance to someone else,” he said. “Let workers evaluate me. I don’t want to comment on my performance.”

Ms. Soeu said she joined the union in 1997 while working at a garment factory in Phnom Penh.

“When I worked at the factory, we were violated by the factory owner. They cut bonuses if a wor­ker came to work one minute late, and when workers fainted, they kicked them,” she said. “So I tried to find people who could help us.”

The new president said she climbed up the union’s management, first as the head of a local branch at her factory, then as a member of the national executive committee and most recently as one of Mr. Mony’s deputies.

Yaing Sophorn, who was an FTU official before launching her own union, is among a number of former activists who have said they left Mr. Mony’s union be­cause it had become a tool to enrich its leaders with little benefit to the workers. She said on Sunday that any change in leadership was positive.

“I don’t know how the newcomer will do, but it was [a] good thing to have change because if someone holds a position for many years, they can’t tell if their work is good or bad,” she said.

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