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CANBERRA, Australia – Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi was welcomed to Australia's Parliament House on Monday for the official start of a state visit that has provoked protests over her muted response to a military crackdown against Rohingya Muslims.
The Nobel Peace laureate arrived in Sydney at the weekend for a summit of Southeast Asian leaders. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Sunday that Suu Kyi had sought humanitarian help from her fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Australia to deal with the crisis.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the summit the refugee crisis was no longer solely a domestic issue for Myanmar, as fleeing Rohingya could be prime targets for terrorist radicalization.
Some 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar to Bangladesh since late August, when Myanmar security forces began massive "clearance operations" after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgent group attacked security posts.
Myanmar staunchly denies that its security forces have targeted civilians in Rakhine state. Suu Kyi has bristled at the international criticism. But Myanmar's denials have appeared increasingly tenuous as horrific accounts from refugees have accumulated and satellite imagery and other evidence of destroyed Rohingya villages have been assembled.
The Associated Press last month documented through video and witness accounts at least five mass graves of Rohingya civilians. Witnesses said the military used acid to erase the identity of victims. The government denied it, maintaining that only "terrorists" were killed and then "carefully buried."
Suu Kyi was under house arrest for almost 15 years before she was released in 2010. She last visited Canberra in 2013 on a five-day Australian tour, before she was allowed to stand for election.
The then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott described her as an "icon of democracy" and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Suu Kyi had inspired her to enter politics.