U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Thailand's king on Friday for his work in development projects benefiting his country's people. "If human development is about putting people first, there can no better advocate for it than His Majesty," Annan said in a speech at a seminar on King Bhumibol Adulyadej's role in development.
Annan was to present the king later Friday with a newly created award from the U.N. Development Program honoring outstanding lifetime contributions to development. Next month, Thailand will hold celebrations marking the king's 60th year on the throne. Bhumibol, 78, is the world's longest-reigning living monarch. Annan said the king's rural development projects "have benefited millions of people across Thailand. They have prompted small-scale agriculture, appropriate farming technologies, sustainable use of water resources, conservation, and flood and drought mitigation."
"As the world's 'Development King', His Majesty reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people of Thailand, listened to their problems, and empowered them to take their lives into their own hands," Annan said. He highlighted the king's projects to reduce opium production through crop substitution and improve access to health care and education for ethnic groups in northern Thailand, bordering Myanmar and Laos. Northern Thailand is part of the notorious 'Golden Triangle' drug production hub, which also includes Myanmar and Laos. The area is one of the world's leading producers of opium and its derivative, heroin. Annan arrived in Thailand late Thursday, his third stop on an Asian tour after China and Vietnam, reports the AP.