CAIRO - Muslims have appealed to US President Barack Obama to use his upcoming visit to Burma to intervene to stop the systematic discrimination of Bengali-ethnic Muslims, known as Rohingyas, in the Asian country.
"The Rohingya minorities should not be overlooked because of the new regime in Myanmar (Burma), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said in a letter to Obama.
"The government of Myanmar has a moral and legal obligation to protect the oppressed minorities, to restore their citizenship, to allow them to return to their homes and to put an end to the hate campaign against them.
Obama, who was re-elected to a second term in office last week, is scheduled to visit Burma on November 19.
"I congratulate you on your recent re-election and look forward to the strengthening of our nation's economy and security.
A significant part of America's strength is derived from our defense of human rights worldwide, Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a letter to Obama.
"I therefore respectfully request that you speak out clearly and forcefully in defense of the human rights and physical security of Rohingya Muslims during your upcoming visit to Myanmar.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
Thousands of Rohingyas have been displaced from their homes in the western state of Rakhine after a new bout of sectarian violence with the Buddhist majority.
An investigative report by Reuters found that the attacks on Rohingya Muslims were incited by Buddhist monks and led by nationalists tied to a powerful political party.
Muslim community leaders urged the US president to pressure Burmese authorities to end the plight of Rohingya Muslims.
"While we all welcome Myanmar's recent move to democracy, our nation must not turn a blind eye to what is one of the worst examples of human rights violations in recent history, Awad said.
"I urge you to make any upgrade in the status of Myanmar as a trading or political partner contingent on its government's willingness to recognize the rights of Rohingya Muslims and to protect them and their property from harm."
Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingyas in the wake of the riots.
Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya Muslims with killing, rape and arrest following the unrest.
Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and the majority are ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.Treating Buddhism as the state de facto religion, the Buddhist Burman majority was singled out as the trustworthy pillar of national identity.