By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON, Sept 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A dozen Nobel laureates, including Malala Yousafzai and Muhammad Yunus, urged the United Nations on Wednesday to use "all available means" to end violence in Myanmar that has forced about 400,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
The exodus began after a series of Rohingya militant attacks sparked a sweeping military response in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which the U.N. rights agency said was a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".
"We urge you to take decisive actions to stop the violence against innocent civilians," Yousafzai and 29 others, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and British billionaire Richard Branson, said in an open letter to the U.N. Security Council.
"Complete villages have been burned, women raped, many civilians arbitrarily arrested, and children killed," the laureates said.
The appeal came as the Security Council was due to meet behind closed doors for the second time since the crisis erupted in August, adding to mounting pressure faced by Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Critics say Suu Kyi, who is also a Nobel laureate, should be stripped of her prize for failing to do more to end the strife.
Suu Kyi's office said on Wednesday that she had cancelled her trip to the U.N. because of the crisis.
Reports from refugees and rights groups paint a picture of widespread attacks on Rohingya villages in the north of Rakhine state by the security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who have torched numerous Muslim villages.
Myanmar authorities have denied that the security forces, or Buddhist civilians, have been starting the fires, instead blaming the insurgents.
Myanmar has restricted most aid agency access to the north of Rakhine, with some officials accusing them of supporting the insurgents.
The letter called for Myanmar's government to implement the recommendations of a commission led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to give the Rohyingya citizenship and freedom of movement.
Myanmar's government regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in the country for generations.
"The government of Myanmar needs to be told that international support and finance is conditional on a major change in policy towards the Rohingya," the laureates said.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)