Calls grow to repurpose land squandered in Cambodia’s concession policy

The mismanagement of large swaths of Cambodia’s land by the country’s elites under the policy of economic land concessions has displaced thousands of rural families and accounted for 40% of total deforestation.

“Make the bosses rich in Cambodia,” then-prime minister Hun Sen said at the 2012 inauguration of a sugar refinery in Kampong Speu province. “If a country has no millionaires, where can the poor get their money from?”

This underscored the ideology at the heart of the policy of economic land concessions, or ELCs, which promised benefits for all by handing vast swaths of the country to a handful of elites to develop, mostly for agroindustry.

The sugar refinery where Hun Sen gave this speech belonged to one his closest advisers, Ly Yong Phat — a ruling party senator with a sprawling business empire and a well-documented history of environmental vandalism.

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