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Thai King's Development Work Wins Loyalty at Home, Praise From Abroad


Thailand's king, this week celebrating 60 years on the throne, is known in his country as the "development king" because of the many rural projects he has sponsored. The monarch's dedication to improving the lives of his people has won him admiration and respect across all sectors of Thai society.

Millions of Thais are expected to take part in spectacular celebrations over three days to mark the 60th anniversary of the reign of revered King Bhumipol Adulyadej .

In large part because of his efforts to eliminate poverty in his country, the monarch is widely admired, and is a unifying factor in Thai society.

Kamolinee Suksriwong, spokeswoman for the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board, says the king's projects have focused on helping rural communities.

"For 60 years of his reign, since he has initiated about more than 3,000 projects, most of the projects are in the category of agriculture, especially those concerning the development of water sources and also the promotion of environmental rehabilitation," said Kamolinee.

In 1950, the young king supported efforts to battle a major cholera epidemic. Since then, his programs have evolved from emergency assistance to agricultural development.

The projects include efforts to boost rice cultivation, improve animal husbandry, and protect important environmental resources, such as mangrove swamps. Village doctor programs, water resource development, even the seeding of clouds to make rain during Thailand's long dry season have all received royal approval.

The king's popular "sufficiency economy" philosophy of promoting balanced long-term growth and sustainability has been central to his work.

Despite rapid industrialization, more than half of Thailand's 64 million people still make their living from the land.

Spokeswoman Kamolinee says this explains the emphasis in the king's work.

"All of them concerned would promote towards the human development, especially in concerning agriculture, because most Thai people are farmers, and these people, sometimes they couldn't [get] access to other government development projects," she said.

Almost all Thai communities have benefited from the royal concern with development, including the ethnic minority hill tribes of northern Thailand.

Crop substitution projects for these tribes have resulted in Thailand - once a major heroin producer - being almost free of opium poppy.

Other programs encourage the hill tribes to halt damaging "slash and burn" agriculture and deforestation.

The king has received many awards for his rural development work, including a lifetime achievement award from the United Nations, recently presented to him by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"His Majesty reached out to the poorest and most vulnerable people of Thailand - listened to their problems - and empowered them to take their lives into their own hands," said Annan. "His Majesty's rural development projects benefited millions of people across rural Thailand."

General Prem Tinsulanonda, a key member of the king's privy council, says the king's work is one reason for the close affinity he has built up with the Thai people.

"His Majesty has been called a working monarch by some - a development king by others - but in the center of his heart lies the people of Thailand - that is why our beloved monarch, the soul of the nation, has already been, and will always be, the leading force for human development in this country," he said. "And, for this, we the Thai people are deeply grateful."

Other members of the royal family are also involved in supporting economic development. Queen Sirikit, in particular, is known for her efforts to promote Thai culture and traditional handicrafts.