Three men armed with firebombs, machetes and an ax attacked Myanmar's embassy in Malaysia yesterday, hacking one senior official and starting a blaze that gutted the building, officials and witnesses said.
Police arrested the three suspects, Myanmar nationals who had been turned away from the embassy on Tuesday after demanding that officials endorse documents claiming that a relative was a freedom fighter in the country, also known as Burma.
The three were from Myanmar's Rohinga ethnic minority who believed the documents could help them win political asylum status from the UN High Commission for Refugees, a police official said.
They returned about 9:30am yesterday, scaled the embassy's outer wall and began shouting demands and waving their weapons, including plastic bags filled with gasoline, Myint Thein Win, the mission's second secretary, told reporters.
The eight officials on duty locked themselves inside the embassy, and when a senior diplomat went outside to talk to the attackers, he was attacked with the ax and suffered head and hand injuries, Myint Thien Win said.
"They started to throw petrol in plastic bags at the building and set fire," he said. "They tried to burn the ambassador's car. The minister counselor was attacked with an ax."
Police arrived soon afterward. The other embassy staff escaped without injury, Myint Thien Win said.
A Kuala Lumpur Fire Services Department official said more than 30 firefighters were dispatched to the embassy -- in the diplomatic district of downtown Kuala Lumpur -- shortly before 10am and found the small two-story building ablaze.
The fire was brought under control within about 30 minutes, but not before "the office block was destroyed," the spokesman said.
Witnesses saw that the front part of the building had collapsed. The roof and walls were still standing, the interior was burned out.
Tens of thousands of immigrants from Myanmar live in Malaysia, which is one of Southeast Asia's wealthiest countries and a magnet for migrant workers. Malaysia also attracts hundreds of asylum seekers who claim they face persecution from Myanmar's military rulers.
The fire is the second security breach at a diplomatic mission in Kuala Lumpur in the past eight days, though they appear to be unrelated.
On March 30, someone threw an explosive device at Australia's High Commission in the city, scorching an outer wall but causing no major damage or injuries. Police said the device was a bottle filled with firecracker powder. No arrests have been made.