Seven people were killed in Colombo yesterday when an explosion ripped through a minivan.

Maharaja television said the blast occurred in a busy part of central Colombo, and quoted the director of the city's National Hospital, Anil Jasinghe, as saying that seven people were killed, four of them from the military. Another ten people were hurt, he said.

It was not clear what caused the explosion, but suspicion quickly fell on Tamil Tiger rebels, who have carried out hundreds of suicide bombings.

The blast hit the car of the Pakistani high commissioner who was not in his vehicle at the time, military officials said.

The blast was caused by explosives packed into an auto-rickshaw, they added.

Meanwhile, the Tamil Tiger rebels ruled out peace talks as battles raged in Sri Lanka's north and east.

A pro-rebel website accused government forces of killing 58 people in separate strikes on a church and a children's home.

A military spokesman, denying the website account of the attack on the church, said rebels fired artillery when government commandos sought to flush out insurgents hiding in the building.

There was no immediate government comment on the reported attack on the children's home.

With hopes fading for a quick end to the latest round of clashes, soldiers and rebels backed by artillery and mortars clashed in eastern Sri Lanka and the northern Jaffna Peninsula.

The reported attack came nearly 24 hours after the fighting around the St Philip Neri Church in Allaipiddy, a predominantly Tamil village located on an island just west of the Jaffna Peninsula. The island is held by the government.

A 2002 ceasefire was intended to halt more than two decades of bloodshed between the government, dominated by Sri Lanka's 14 million Sinhalese, and the rebels, who have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for the country's 3.2 million Tamils.