DJIBOUTI  - The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called Saturday for the international community to protect Muslims in Myanmar’s unrest-hit Rakhine state from genocide as US President Barack Obama readied for a landmark trip to the country.

“We expect the United States to convey a strong message to the government of Burma so they protect that minority, what is going on there is a genocide,” said Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, who is the acting chairman of the OIC.

“We are telling things how they are, we believe that the United States and other countries should act quickly to save that minority which is submitted to an oppressive policy and a genocide,” he said at the end of an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting in Djibouti.

Two major outbreaks of violence in Rakhine since June between Muslim and Buddhist communities have left 180 dead and more than 110,000, most of them the Muslim Rohingya, crammed into makeshift camps.

Security forces are also accused of abuse against the minority.

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of Turkey also urged a stop to what he called “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, considered among the most persecuted groups in the world by the United Nations.

“We would like the international community to act immediately to stop the ethnic cleansing,” he said.

The 57-member OIC decided at an August summit in Makkah to take the issue before the UN General Assembly.

Obama on Monday will become the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - in a short but hugely symbolic trip that he hopes will spur greater reform in the once isolated country and highlight a rare success for his policy of engaging pariah regimes.

Ahead of the visit, Myanmar President Thein Sein said Saturday that the communal unrest was hampering the country’s reforms and causing it “to lose face” on the world stage.

In October, Thein Sein blocked the OIC from opening an office in the country, following rallies against the organisation’s efforts to help Rakhine’s Muslims.

The some 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar, who speak a language similar to that spoken in southeastern Bangladesh, are considered illegal immigrants by the government and many ethnic Burmese.

Myanmar’s reformist government is under pressure to give them a legal status as it comes under international scrutiny with warnings that the conflict threatens its democratic transition.