updated 5/26/2008 11:12:35 AM ET 2008-05-26T15:12:35

A bomb blamed on Tamil Tiger separatists ripped through part of a packed passenger train Monday evening during rush hour, killing seven people and wounding 67 others near the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.

The bomb exploded about 5 p.m. near the railroad station in Dehiwala, about 10 kilometers (six miles) south of Colombo, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman. He said seven people were killed and 67 wounded in the attack, and he blamed the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not respond to calls seeking comment, but the rebels routinely deny such attacks.

The blast blew off a part of the train compartment's roof and shattered its windows. Bloodstained bags, umbrellas, glasses and other debris were strewn throughout the compartment.

Meanwhile, a railway official said train services on that line have been suspended until further notice.

Rebels considered terrorists
The rebels, blamed for scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians, are listed as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and India.

If the attack was carried out by the rebels, it would show they retain the ability to strike deep inside government territory despite a maze of security checkpoints around the capital and suburbs.

Authorities, in the past weeks, have asked the public to remain vigilant in the wake of several bombings blamed on the rebels, including an attack at a Colombo bus station that killed 26 people last month.

Saturday evening, police defused two time bombs hidden on passenger buses during rush hour near Colombo.

Nanayakkara said the rebels "are trying their level best to create problems in Colombo and suburbs" because of defeats they suffer at the hands of government troops.

"They (rebels) are desperate in the northern fronts and now attack civilians elsewhere," he said.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by the majority Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed.

Fighting has increased
Fighting has escalated along the northern front lines since the government withdrew from a long-ignored cease-fire in January.

The government has pledged to capture the rebels' de facto state in the north and crush them by the end of the year. But diplomats and other observers say the army is facing more resistance than expected.

In the latest fighting, air force helicopters Monday bombed a Tamil rebel position in the north, a day after ground clashes around the rebel stronghold killed 21 insurgents and a soldier, according to the military.

A military statement said that the air force targeted a rebel point in Andankulam village of northern Mannar district to back up the infantry operations. It did not identify the rebel location nor release details of damages.

Ground fighting on Sunday were reported from Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Welioya regions, the military said.

There was no immediate comment from rebels on military's claims. It was not possible to get independent accounts of the violence because reporters are not allowed in the war zone.

Both sides are known to exaggerate casualties inflicted upon their enemy while lowering their own damages.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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