Japan cuts aid, West cranks up pressure on Myanmar

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TOKYO, Oct 16 (Reuters) Japan cut aid to Myanmar today, a day after the European Union stiffened its sanctions and US President George W Bush threatened to follow suit in response to the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Despite the flurry of sticks being waved at military-ruled Myanmar, however, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a carrot -- economic help for the impoverished southeast Asian nation if it began moves towards democracy.

And Thailand proposed a regional forum, including China and India, to nudge the reclusive junta towards democratic reform.

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Tokyo would halt 4.7 million dollars in aid following last month's suppression of Buddhist monk-led protests, in which at least 10 people were killed, including a Japanese video journalist.

''We need to show the Japanese government's position. We cannot take action supporting the military government at this stage,'' Komura told reporters, adding that Japan's health programme aid for Myanmar would nevertheless continue.

Yesterday EU foreign ministers agreed to strengthen sanctions against Myanmar's rulers and warned they could go with a ban on all new investment in the resource-rich country.

The 27-nation bloc will now target Myanmar's key timber, metals and gemstone sectors in addition to sanctions that include visa bans and asset freezes on its generals, government officials and their relatives.

The EU says its economic leverage is limited, though it has so far steered clear of its energy sector, in which French oil giant Total is a big investor.

INCENTIVES In the United States, Bush said ''enormous international pressure'' was needed to make it clear to the former Burma's generals that they would be completely isolated if they did not bring freedom and democracy to the country.

He threatened fresh sanctions on Myanmar and suggested impatience with the international response to its crackdown.

''Sometimes international bodies are non-consequential. That is, they're good talking but there's not a consequence. At some point there has to be consequences,'' Bush told an audience in Rogers, Arkansas.

Washington imposed new sanctions last month, toughening measures that had been in place for years but had forced little change, and has been pressing for stronger UN action.

But, taking an incentives approach, Britain's Brown said yesterday he would be writing to world leaders to canvass support for a package of economic support measures for Myanmar.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart David Miliband echoed Brown in a newspaper column, saying the EU should consider positive measures should Myanmar show a ''willingness to genuinely work for reconciliation''.

In Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont proposed a UN-backed regional forum on Myanmar, bringing together Southeast Asia plus India and China, the two countries with perhaps the greatest potential influence on the junta.

The proposed forum would appear to echo the six-party talks format set up to persuade North Korea, another hermit Asian state, to give up its nuclear ambitions.

However, as the region began a new diplomatic approach beyond the failed strategies of sanctions or ''constructive engagement'', the generals remained defiant.

U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, in Bangkok on the start of a regional tour to drum up support for a coordinated diplomatic front, said that the continued arrests and intimidation of activists were ''extremely disturbing''.

''These actions must stop at once,'' he told reporters before heading on to Malaysia, where he was due to meet with the prime minister and foreign minister today.

Gambari is slated to return to Myanmar in November, but said he hoped his Asia tour would demonstrate such a united regional front that he might be granted a visa sooner.

REUTERS GL RK1535

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