Islamic countries urge U.N. chief to press Myanmar to protect Muslims

Members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Wednesday pressed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to do more to protect the Muslim minority in Myanmar following outbreaks of communal violence since last year.

"It is incumbent on the government of Myanmar to assume its responsibility to eradicate all forms of discrimination against the Muslim minority," Djibouti's Ambassador Roble Olhaye, who is also the chair of the OIC Group, told reporters at a press conference.

Up to 140,000 people have been internally displaced in the western state of Rakhine, which Olhaye says "amounts to ethnic cleansing" after inter-communal violence erupted there, spreading to other regions and states.

More than 200 people on both sides have been killed and more than 5,000 homes and religious buildings have been destroyed during the clashes, according to U.N. estimates.

The clashes between Muslims and Buddhists were touched off after a Buddhist girl was allegedly raped by several men said to be Muslim.

"Myanmar is having a honeymoon with the world, the only problem is that that honeymoon is being built on the bodies of the Muslim victims in that country," said Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, who also spoke at the press conference.

"The world cannot be taken away by the progress on democratic values if those democratic values do not include giving full rights to the Muslim population in Myanmar," he added, saying the basic human rights of that population are being denied.

The two ambassadors called on Ban to press Myanmar's government and authorities to stem the violence and restore order.

"We called upon the secretary general to interfere, to make his voice heard, and we are concerned about the attention that is being given to the democratic processes while basic human rights are being stepped upon within Myanmar," the Saudi Arabian envoy added.

On Wednesday Ban held a meeting with the so-called Group of Friends on Myanmar, which was formed in 2007 and includes the United States, key European and other Western nations, as well as Japan and other Asian countries.

It was the first time the group had met since last September to discuss developments in the country.

While Ban in a readout provided by the United Nations noted that the group recognized the "continued progress in reform" that Myanmar has made towards democratization, the issue of violence that swept through Rakhine last year and others areas this year was brought up.

The group "stressed the urgent need for effective action" to punish the perpetrators, guarantee fundamental rights for all people and "urgent attention" to address the underlying causes of the conflicts.