A bomb exploded on a government transport bus packed with commuters close to the Sri Lankan capital on Friday. A government spokesman says 24 people are dead and more than 40 injured. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in our South Asia bureau has more.

Tamil separatist rebels are being blamed for the explosion at a bus stand in a residential suburb south of Colombo during the evening rush hour. Officials say a parcel bomb had been placed on an overhead rack near the front of the bus.

Government spokesman Lakshman Hulugalle says there is little doubt that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group is behind the blast.

"With the heavy defeats that the LTTE is having in the North during the last two to three days, I think that the terrorists have again turned to [attacking] the innocent civilian who does not carry any arms or gun," he said.

The LTTE, known as the Tamil Tigers, has been engaged in intensifying clashes with government troops in recent days. The fighting has escalated since the government formally ended a six-year-long ceasefire agreement in January.

Government spokesman Hulugalle says law enforcement and the military are doing all they can to prevent these types of rebel bombings in urban areas.

"When there is a suicide bombing and a planted bomb like this it's very difficult, because with the highest security level nobody can give the entire country a security guarantee," he said.

The bus bombing is the first major incident in the Sri Lankan capital since the April 6 suicide attack on a marathon foot race. That explosion killed 14 people, including a respected government minister.

The Tigers, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, have been waging war off and on for the past quarter century attempting to carve out a Tamil homeland in the north of the Sinhalese-dominated island nation.